She Loves Flowers - Arizona by sam taylor

She Loves Flowers - Arizona

Good Wednesday Morning -

So, I’m marrying this girl in about 3 weeks. I can’t believe it, and I can’t fully explain how excited I am. I’ve been around the block a few times, and to feel like “you got this one right” is a pretty great feeling.

She is smart, she is thoughtful, she is tough, and while I used to say “and she plays outside with me”, it’s probably more true that I also play outside with her. She has been my partner for a while now - both in work and in life - and she never ceases to amaze me with her perspective and her energy.

She organized the trip where I got this photo. Put together a whole trip to the desert, because I had been swamped, buried, stressed out, and all I had to do was show up. That’s what kind of lady she is - thoughtful, resourceful, smart, and kind.

And I get to marry her.

When we are traveling, it’s interesting that she and I don’t want to photograph the same things - I love the landscapes, the big views. She loves flowers. You’ll find her standing in the biggest views, the most grand landscapes, checking out the tiniest details, and trying to learn what they are called, where they live.

She loves flowers. And I love her. :-)

She Loves Flowers - Arizona

Lush - West Virginia by sam taylor

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Good Friday Morning!

There is just something about the hidden corners, nooks, and crannies of West Virginia.

I grew up in Richwood, WV (or, better said, near Richwood). I have been up and down the road between Richwood and Marlinton more times than I can even start to count.

Strange then to be rolling along and see water somewhere that I’ve never noticed it before!

We found a spot to turn around and snuck back down, found a wide spot, and then hiked up into the woods, using the culvert as a marker point - and found one of the prettiest, lushest, greenest little streams I’ve seen.

To know a place like the back of your hand and find new, beautiful surprises. That’s what this place is about.

Hope folks have a great weekend, I have a couple mini-projects in work that I hope to start sharing with y’all starting next week!

Lush - West Virginia

Cascade - Maryland by sam taylor

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Good Tuesday Morning!

It’s felt a lot more like early Spring than “almost Summer” the last stretch, but the cool temps and the rainy weather has made the woods green, lush, and gorgeous.

Waterfalls are a big feature in this part of the Appalachias - we have all the ingredients. Water, steep terrain, rocks, and time. Waterfalls were my “gateway” into real, serious photography, where I worked to understand the equipment and polish my technique.

It’s a little bit of a shame, then, that the “waterfall market” is oversaturated, because I do love shooting them. What do I mean about oversatured? Well, there are so many people taking so many photos of waterfalls that several of the galleries and shows I’ve been involved with actively have discouraged the submission of waterfall images.

I also get a little frustrated at folks who ask basic questions about how to photograph these - the “internetting” of knowledge has made it so that people just ask bluntly “what were your settings, how did you do that”, versus doing a bit of homework on their own and figuring it out.

Oh well, better to lead than follow.

And as long as I find them fascinating, and the hikes to them are quiet, I’ll keep making images of waterfalls. ;)

Cascade - Maryland

The Dividing Line - West Virginia by sam taylor

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Good Friday Afternoon!

Ever since Dolly Sods became the “it” place for DC-ites to travel to - likely because Shenandoah was too full - it has fallen off of our list of places to travel. I head to the woods to get away from people, and driving FR75 on a summer weekend is a total dice-roll as to whether you can find a place to park, let alone a place to camp.

That said, it is undeniably beautiful, and when Carmen and I had a random early-season day to travel there with a bad weather forecast (did you know that storms drive away crowds?), we decided it was time to visit an old, but recently very popular, friend.

After making some jokes about the rattlesnake spa that probably exists below this overlook, we noted the rain bands and storm clouds gathering in the distance. Water is such a part of West Virginia that I always think about how rain on one side of the ridge is headed to the Chesapeake Bay, and rain on the other is headed to New Orleans. The dividing line.

With a big thunderclap, Carmen roosted me from my reveries, and we retreated to the Jeep.

Until next time, old friend.

Handed Down (Lower Falls Pendleton Run) - West Virginia by sam taylor

Handed Down (Lower Falls Pendleton Run) - West Virginia

Good Tuesday Morning!

I have been thinking about “what we give to our kids” a great deal over the last little while. My parents gave me a great many skills for the wide-world today - they encouraged my curiosity and creativity. They taught me not only skills, but how to learn new skills, which is possibly the most valuable thing they ever taught me.

My Dad and I had a lot of shared interests growing up - mainly centered around being outside, and working outside, but I know that my love of cars and machines is greatly due to him. That said, we also had a lot of things that I didn’t totally get from him. He has the greenest of thumbs, and I haven’t had a successful garden as an adult. He went around the world to end up back on our mountain in central West Virginia - and he hasn’t left willingly (i.e. for fun) ever since.

I’ve been thinking about this with my daughter lately. I want to take her to the woods. I want to teach her how to hike, and read a map, and get lost and find her way home.

But what if she doesn’t like any of that?

What if she doesn’t like learning?

What is she doesn’t like getting sweaty and dirty?

What if she isn’t at all like me?

Unfortunately, as of this writing, I don’t have the answers to those questions.

That said, I’m going to try and teach her “how to learn”, and I’m going to work hard to keep her curious.

If I can succeed at that, I’ve probably done ok. If that’s the one thing I hand down to her, that will be worth it.

Hope folks have a great week,

Handed Down - West Virginia

The Phoenix - West Virginia by sam taylor

The Phoenix - West Virginia

Good Friday Morning!

I hope it goes without saying that I love this place. I have written at length about what I love about this place, and early summer in West Virginia may be the best thing in the world - the flowers, the smell of hayfields after rain, seeing the haze build on the far off mountains.

My mom has a saying that seems applicable, if paraphrased here - “you love the sinner, you don’t love the sin” - I love this place, but that doesn’t mean I love everything about it.

I don’t love how it feels like every decision people make is a trade-off between staying here and struggling and leaving and making it. I don’t like how the people that stay make decisions between working and providing for their families, and taking jobs that hurt their health, or the quality of the place we live. I don’t like watching our state government alternate between stagnancy and mean-spiritedness.

I do think it’s a matter of time, before the people that live here start to pull together and realize that it’s us that makes this place what we want it to be - not outside investment, not tourists, not folks chasing dollars into and then out of the state. If we start to see that, then maybe I’ll live long enough to see what this place could really be.

Today’s image immediately made me think “Phoenix!” when I saw it through the viewfinder - and then immediately the idea for today’s post was born. West Virginia, and her mountains, and her people, rising - like the Phoenix.

Hope folks have a great weekend,

The Phoenix - West Virginia

Bridge To Nowhere (and can't wait to get there) - Maryland by sam taylor

Bridge To Nowhere - Maryland

Good Tuesday Morning!

I've made a lot of jokes about "nature therapy" in here, and have always said that hiking and biking and climbing and camping were the solutions to most of my problems. 

Depressed?  Go to the woods.

Stressed?  Go to the woods. 

Insomnia?  Go to the woods.

It has always been a place to recenter myself, and find what I'm happy about.  Enough so that I keep pondering whether a day-job change is in my future...  but more on that later.

This last weekend, we went to the woods, did some work, hung out on the farm.

My blood pressure was down 15 points between Friday and Monday.

That was pretty eye-opening for me.  Maybe taking the bridge to nowhere was the right choice.  A trail that starts in the middle of nowhere and ends in the middle of nowhere.  So the name seems to make sense to me.

Bridge to Nowhere - Maryland

Beauty Run - West Virginia by sam taylor

Beauty Run - West Virginia

Good Friday Morning!

Between the green and the rain, it seems that Summer is upon us here in the Mountain State. I sure am glad of that too. It’s going to be one heck of a summer - family stuff, travel, work on the farm, work at work ;), and then culminates with my daughter starting high school.

All of that put together has meant that my “going out to shoot” time has been a bit curtailed, and that I have to make the most of that time when I get it. That’s actually been kind of a nice thing for me, in that it means I have to work harder to find beauty in unexpected places, or to try and find new perspectives on old things.

Today’s image is a bit of all of those - a chance to re-visit an old place, and find something unexpected when I do.

To my knowledge, this little ephemeral stream doesn’t have a name. I call it Beauty Run.

Beauty Run - West Virginia

It's Been Quiet the Last Few Sundays - West Virginia by sam taylor

It's Been Quiet the Last Few Sundays - West Virginia

Good Tuesday Morning -

Traveling the backroads as much as we do, we have seen so many scenic, beautiful, and old churches around West Virginia. In many places, I think the church was built on land that might not be good for pasture or farming, or was donated by someone - long, long ago - and that is what leads to their position on the top of hills or at the corner of a field.

Many of these churches are far out in the country - not many houses around - and look like they haven’t seen a congregation in a long time. Many don’t have power run to them, and often - like this one - there isn’t even the “two tracks through the grass” for where to park a car. The paint may be faded.

But normally, the grass is cut, and looks like it gets cut all season. I always wonder about that. Who is out there, mowing this lot, trimming the grass, tending to flowers? Because all the other signs say it’s been quiet there for a while, a least the last few Sundays.

It does make me happy that there are “someones” out there, still tending to these places, keeping them ready for the next meeting or revival or wedding.  There are few things easier and more expensive to lose than your history and your sense of community.

Hope folks have a good week.

It’s Been Quiet the Last Few Sundays - West Virginia

Travel is Fatal to Prejudice (and that's why it shouldn't be easy) - Arizona by sam taylor

Travel is Fatal to Prejudice - Arizona

Good Friday Morning!

Whenever we go on travel, such as our recent trip to Arizona, we joke that we come home more tired than when we left, but also rejuvenated in mind and spirit by meeting new people, seeing new places, and coming to understand those people and places a little better - which often helps us better understand our home a little better. I think that is what Mark Twain was getting at with his famous “Travel Is Fatal To Prejudice” quote (full quote here, just for reference).

The thing is, by definition, that means travel shouldn’t be “Easy”. Travel is NOT a vacation. Travel is not driving a long way away and then going to restaurants that you have at home. If you are going to the same resort, eating at the same chain restaurant that’s in your town, and only talking to the people you brought with you, you are on a vacation. You aren’t traveling.

It’s a joke, almost, in West Virginia - we mention that we are travel writers, travel photographers, and someone will say “I love traveling! We go to Myrtle Beach (or the Outer Banks, or Virginia Beach, or Topsail Island) every year!”

And I bet they talk to the same 10 people every time. What do you learn from that? What new insight about that place or this place did you come home with?

So, to my dear reader, I ask that you think about this the next time you are on the road (or maybe even on vacation). Take a chance on the mom-and-pop restaurant, and talk to the folks there. Jump off on the slow road, and if someone is out in their yard, talk to them about what it’s like to live there. Find out what the “big deals” are where they live, and think about how that might be different - and for different reasons - than where you are from.

Today will be the last image (at least for a while) from the Arizona run. Hope y’all enjoyed it.

Travel Is Fatal To Prejudice - Arizona

Good Spot To Rest - Arizona by sam taylor

This Seems a Good Spot To Rest - Arizona

Good Tuesday Morning -

I think the “commodification” of some of our public lands and great American landscapes has taken some of the true nature away from these places. You can go to Arches, or Zion, see incredible things, get a few likes on your social media, and the biggest risk you might face is a sunburn or twisted ankle.

But that isn’t the true nature of these places. Just outside the sections bounded by trails, out of view of the visitor centers, these places are hard, unforgiving - and beautiful. This spot was far enough out into the scrub that I was glad it was still in the cool of the spring, and it was the only real shade of note for a very, very, long way. As we got closer, we realized we weren’t the only ones to see this - this is open range country, and cowboys are still a real thing here - and under the tree was a small fire ring, perched where the tree would provide both shade and windbreak.

Good Spot To Rest - Arizona

What Comes After - West Virginia by sam taylor

What Comes After - West Virginia

Good Friday Morning!

Had a wonderful weekend “down on the farm” this last weekend. After the spring.I’ve had, the time to hang out and talk and visit and unwind was NEEDED.

A topic that’s on my mind today - the tensions, and maybe even disconnects, between the things that “locals” think they want and need for this region, and what “visitors” think. I spend a lot of time at that “pinch point”, between folks from outside, that have their own agendas - but also some good ideas and resources, and locals that need resources, but may not agree with the agenda.

Example - in southern WV, a great deal of focus is on generation of “adventure” tourism, including motorized recreation - Hatfields ATV trail, bike trail development, all of the activity around the New River Gorge. On the other end of the state, the conversation in the Potomac Highlands (Blackwater, Dolly Sods, etc) is very much hiking/preservation oriented - a funny thing, considering that the crowds coming over from the east have made it tough to go to the Sods on the weekend.

The locals like ATVs. The visitors want peace and quiet. The locals need jobs and resources. The visitors have them.

Who wins?

Hope folks have a great weekend - with a little luck, I have a “long format” piece coming from some adventures outwest. VERY excited to share those.

What Comes After - West Virginia

Falls of Pendleton - West Virginia by sam taylor

Falls of Pendleton - West Virginia

Good Friday Morning!

Sorry I was away for a bit there - I promise I’ve got a good excuse. I managed to get some time away, some time with Carmen, before the big end of the school year. This year so far has been a beast - a real monster - but I’m here, and if you are reading this, it is done for me - time to start the summer. I have quite a few images I’m looking forward to sharing with you lovely people, and some fun stories to tell.

It’s been a few years, but the Pendleton Run “hike” is an old favorite of mine, going back to days when I decided that “rim to rim” was the way to explore Blackwater - going in on Shay Run, and out up Pendleton. (That story is only good for bragging rights, it was definitely not worth it to do it that way)

Most folks only ever see this cascade from an overlook on the other side of the canyon, but after Carmen told me that there was, somehow, a hike she hadn’t done in Blackwater, it was ON. (as an aside - one of the first ever “real” dates that Carmen and I went on was a hike from the lodge to the river in the Shay Run drainage, some 5-plus-years ago - so it was pure symmetry to me that we do this one)

According the USGS, this may actually be the tallest “waterfall” in West Virginia - the difference being it’s a cascade, versus a single drop (like Hills Creek, or the namesake Blackwater Falls) - 150’ is what they say she goes at.

Excited to be back, and excited to be telling stories again. Hope y’all have a good weekend.

Falls of Pendleton - West Virginia

When the Wind Cuts Cold - west Virginia by sam taylor

when the wind cuts cold - west virginia

Good Friday Morning, everyone!

The spring-is-springing, and none to soon for this guy. It has been a long, dark, dreary winter for me - much more “indoor” activity than I tend to like, and less “outdoor” activity than I would have hoped, even with the workload. It seemed like we had a winter of cold and rain here, even more than usual.

That said, this will mark the tailing off - for the season at least - of the industrial-grit series that I have been working on this winter, with a pivot to the beauty of spring and the excitement of several things that we have in the works this year.

This winter project has been good for me, as an artist, but has also left me a bit disillusioned with the state of visual art and how it is received and distributed these days. I start to find that the “popular” work all looks the same, and the “interesting” work gets buried. All the same, I feel more inspired to work than I have in a long time, and I’m excited about that.

I captured this image a few months back, and remember it because the sunset (as was the day preceding it) was gorgeous, and I saw many other instagrammed images of this sunset from around the region, and decided not to share mine at the time because I knew it would get lost - we were all looking at the same sunset, but mine wasn’t the same.

I hope folks have a great weekend, and I’m ready for the semester end. One more week.

When The Wind Cuts Cold - West Virginia

The Only Place That's Ever Felt Like Home - Arizona by sam taylor

The Only Place That's Ever Felt Like Home - Arizona

Its starting to eat at me, like not seeing a friend or a family member for too long. I miss the beauty. I miss the stark. I miss the open. I miss the details.

There is only one place that has ever come close to speaking to me the way West Virginia does - the desert of the American southwest. It reminds me of here, strangely enough - everything is centered around the water. The mountains and the valleys both provide shelter and get in the way.

Someday, maybe, I’ll end up there for long enough to really feel like I’m getting to know it, but for now it’s the only place that’s ever felt like home outside of home.

The Only Place That's Ever Felt Like Home - Arizona

On The Battlement - West Virginia by sam taylor

On The Battlement - West Virginia

Good Friday Morning -

The history of this place. So much history in this place. We’ve had a winter trying to highlight some of those things, and the interactions of people with the land of West Virginia. I make the joke that she guards her history well. Things that are abandoned here tend to disappear quickly. Over the last few years, we’ve “found” (new to us) towns and industrial centers that were abandoned less than 100 years ago - Nuttallburg, Kaymoor, Hammond. We’ve “found” amusement parks - totally gone now - that were hosting thousands of visitors a little over 100 years ago.

Today’s post about a battlefield that we “found” - far off the beaten path and hard to find any details on in the history books. This photo is of fortifications - gun emplacements, best we can tell, from the Battle of Allegheny Mountain, December 1861. On a cold winter day nearly 160 years ago roughly 3,000 men fought, fired, and died all around this place. Today, you would be hard pressed to know - unlike many of the battlefields over in Maryland or Pennsylvania, there was one sign for this place. In the end, it wasn’t only war that led this place to be abandoned, it was the rough winter and cold conditions - high in the Appalachian mountains.

Conditions this day were ghostly - hard wind, thick fog, swirling around the place and through these hawthorn trees. We had no idea what this place was at the time - but it felt old and hard -made by man, long ago, and left to the elements.

Hope folks have a great weekend. The warming weather is making us antsy to get back out there.

On The Battlement - West Virginia

Abandoned Treasure? - Pennsylvania by sam taylor

Abandoned Treasure? - Pennsylvania

Good Friday Morning -

The winter is the time to try and find the abandoned and industrial things that I’ve been highlighting lately. The foliage of this place - the jungle that it becomes in the summer - can hide things that are right in front of you, which is what happened with today’s subject. Carmen and I had been by here multiple times on our way to the river, and never seen them, even though they are literally right beside the road.

While we were walking around and exploring these, a strange thought came to my mind - how long does it take for something to transition from “abandoned, blighted, eyesore” to “relic, historical, character”? I’ll admit excitement in finding these old coke ovens, and in their fantastic state of repair - some of the best I’ve seen in a long time - a different feeling than driving by abandoned river loadouts and tipples. Why is that? Time? The fact that the woods have retaken these, and other places in WV like Nuttallburg or Kaymoor in WV, does that make them “old and beautiful”?

Something to think about - these types of places become features on rail trails and such around the region - the destination on the ride. Maybe we should slow down on tearing some of the newer stuff down…

Hope y’all have a good weekend!

Abandoned Treasure? - West Virginia

Simplicity - West Virginia by sam taylor

Winter Field Trees - West Virginia

Good Friday Morning!

It has been a week - I’m burning the candle at both ends on several projects that are all coming due in the next month or so. That’s been tough on me - I get rejuvenated by being outside, by being in the woods. I need to smell the woods and feel the sun on my face, or I start to feel crazy.

Add in that it’s been a sort-of long winter. A lot of grey, full overcast, rainy days so far - and while that makes it easier to stay inside and grind on things, it also starts to wear me down.

That’s why moments like the image above are so important. It’s so simple, blue skies, snow-covered clean fields, and the wind in my face - it’s enough to get through.

With a little luck, I’ll get a quick recharge over the weekend, get some mud on the boots, and keep pushing. Simple.

Have a great weekend.

Simplicity - West Virginia

Trans. Former. - West Virginia by sam taylor

Trans. Former.  - West Virginia

Good Friday Morning!

It’s a weird time to be working in and around West Virginia. Transformation is everywhere, some good, some not. There is a lot of money out there looking at how to best use, reuse, or reclaim abandoned mines and “brownfield” industrial sites, whether through the ARC Power Grants, or the “Abandoned Mine Land Fund”. A cottage industry in trying to make the best of a terrible environmental legacy.

Right on the heels of that, I’m hearing about the legislature working to reduce the coal severance tax in West Virginia. The reason we have a severance tax is to try and put some funds into the common good from the extraction of these resources. In classic thought, that severance tax should be set high enough to account for any “bads” that come from the extraction as well - that it should help to cover environmental repair, long term health coverage for people impacted by the industry, and put funds into investments for the future after the industry is gone. Funny to look around and see all the bads, few investments, and now we are cutting severance. Maybe we should think about setting it up like Alaska - those folks get $2,000 a year from the state out of their severance revenues. At least then some of those funds would end up back in our local economy.

One way or the other, these industries have, are, and will transform this place, for better and worse, and what we should be thinking about is what that transformation looks like in the long term, not the short term.

Today’s image from a former mine site, stuck in a long term state of almost transition. The seasons coming and going over these briery fields, waiting for the next thing.

Trans. Former. - West Virginia

p.s. Never let it be said that y’all don’t surprise me sometimes. Last weeks photo (Beautiful, In Its Way) went viral in a way that I never would have guessed. Sometimes, I get a solid reminder that other folks are reading and watching - thank you for that.

Beautiful, In Its Way - West Virginia by sam taylor

Beautiful, In Its Way - West Virginia

Good Friday Morning!

In the 5 years (whoa!) since I started this little operation, I’ve been able to watch some trends and tropes emerge in the work and storytelling I do, and I wanted to talk a little about that today.

Since I started this project, social media has really become the way “this type of work” gets exposed and known - we’ve come a long way from where I started to today’s “doing it for the ‘gram”.

Thinking a bit more locally, I was talking with Carmen the other day, and I made the statement that everything I see about photography in West Virginia seems to sort into two buckets:

  1. Highly saturated, full color images of pristine wilderness in West Virginia.

  2. Gritty black and whites of “working class” people and neighborhoods, or of industry (and industrial decline).

I’ve probably spent some time in these spaces as well, although I don’t do a lot of “people” shooting. Sometimes the subject matter motivates those choices for me - I always find textures and patterns more interesting in black and white - and man-made things tend to have textures and patterns. I’ve also worked to capture the “best thing” and present it as I “saw” it - which in West Virginia leads to a lot of greens and blues and colors.

All of that said, both of those approaches have started to leave me feeling flat. We see the two ends of the spectrum, but the much more common middle gets left out. The beauty that might exist in places that most folks don’t take photos of, or the damage in pristine places. The beauty in empty or beat down. The grit that often lives “just out of frame” in the postcard.

I hope folks come with me on this ride - but I felt I needed to challenge myself this year, and so far it’s energized me more than I’ve felt in my work in a long time.

Hope y’all have a good weekend.

Beautiful, In Its Way - West Virginia