New England Scramble

I was in Boston this past weekend for work and had a little bit of time to explore afterwards. I've had the Portland Head Light on my photography bucket list for years, so I wasn't going to pass up the opportunity. Also since the fall colors were just starting to pop I jumped in the car and headed up to New Hampshire so I could do the Mt Washington Auto Road.

I was nervous on the way up because a lot of the trees weren't changing at all, but was relieved the further north I got as I saw some wonderful colors on the way up. By the time I arrived at the base of the mountain things were looking great, although it was still a little bit early. I have a feeling the colors are going to absolutely explode next week, but it was nice to see it starting.

As I pulled in to start the climb I was behind an intrepid couple in an old Austin Healey 3000 convertible. Kudos to them as while the temperature at the base was in the 70s, it was much much cooler at the summit. A large group of motorcyclists took off, as well as the Austin. Just before I started I spotted an old Land Cruiser coming down.

The drive is a slow climb up 6000 ft with lots of places to stop on the way up. I tried my hand at some intentional camera movement to just capture the colors I was seeing. This next shot is of a birch tree that was surrounded by bright orange leaves. I rotated it to a landscape orientation just to make it a bit more abstract.

As you drive back and forth up the switchbacks you start realizing how much elevation you are gaining and as a kid from Illinois it's always a treat being on anything taller than a small hill. This was a shot I had wanted since I flew to Los Angeles years ago and snapped a similar photo from out the plane window. The layers of mountains off into the distance was surprisingly calming, the photo really doesn't do it justice.

In addition to driving up or taking the cog railway, there are five hiking trails available. Talking to people at the top it sounds like you can make it all the way up in about four hours if you are experienced or most of the day if you take your time. The trails are spotted with these interesting and beautiful rock piles called cairns, to guide people up the mountain.

At the top is a large parking lot, a visitors center, lookout, a few large radio & cell antenna, as well as some small huts. A plaque states that the highest wind speed ever recorded, a staggering 231mph, happened here in 1934. Because of this some of the buildings are literally chained down. The Tip Top Shop is made out of stacked stones where I found one of the side windows very interesting.

As soon as I got out of the car I realized how cold it was but it didn't really click until about twenty minutes later. Walking around I started seeing strange white things in the grass, they looked almost like coarsely chopped onions. It wasn't until I walked around to the back of one of the buildings when I realized that it was ice! The shingle siding was completely covered in ice, built up from the howling wind.

Not long after that I spotted the cog railway train working its way up the mountain. I was surprised at the angle it was climbing up at, the tour guide was leaning out the front at quite an angle. I learned that the seats inside the train are also at a significant angle, so when the train is on flat terrain its a bit awkward. I kept the camera level relative to the horizon to show how it was pulling into the station.

The railway runs three trains, two run on biodiesel, but a third is a coal-fired steam locomotive. After the green train pulled into the station I spotted the plume of smoke coming around into view. You can see how the engine is angled downward, I'm assuming to keep the boiler as close to level as possible during the climb.

Just before leaving the clouds came sweeping in and visibility dropped to nothing. While hanging around for a few minutes seeing if it would clear up I looked down at my feet and noticed that at one of the trail heads people had left rocks hand signed with little messages and pictures - family names, locations, well wishes, etc. What a great idea. Next time when I bring the family I'll be sure to remember a few colored sharpies.

The next morning I got up at an ungodly hour to head over to the famous Portland Head Light in Portland Maine, and it was definitely worth the trip. Crossing my fingers as I arrived I found the gate open at 5:30am just as some other photographers said it most likely would be. I was the first one down there, but as sunrise approached a few more intrepid souls joined me at the overlook just south of the lighthouse. I took a 5 shot panorama just as the sun started breaking over the horizon. Using my Lee Big Stopper filter I manually varied my exposures from 10 seconds on the far right to 20 seconds on the left most exposure. It was tricky but well worth the trouble.

Knowing I only had a few minutes I grabbed my gear and sprinted over to the other side of the lighthouse to get another angle before losing the good light. On the north side of the lighthouse there was an overlook with a large field of positively beautiful rounded stones along with some huge boulders. I got some shots from the overlook but it wasn't grabbing me. While the other side had a chain link fence that was obvious you shouldn't go past, here there was only a small orange cone on a path. I took a shot and made my way down to the water, laying flat on a large boulder to get a better composition.

Just after I snapped this last shot a massive cruise ship came around from behind, completely ruining any more shots. I felt happy with what I got and climbed my way back up. Knowing I had to be back at Logan airport in Boston I headed out to get some breakfast and make my way back to Chicago.

Another trip where I only had a few hours but I made the most of my time. I absolutely loved Maine and New Hampshire and am definitely going to take the family back here next year when the colors are in their prime to see everything and soak it all in without scrambling to get from one place to another.