It’s now been a year and two months since I moved to West Virginia.
When I accepted the job at the Gazette-Mail, I was almost a month into living in my best friend’s loft in DC after moving back from South Dakota; where I worked at the Rapid City Journal for four months before being suddenly laid off. Other than Harpers Ferry, I’d spent no time in West Virginia. “why are you here!?” was a common question. Admittedly, the first time I visited Charleston, I wasn’t impressed. From the height of its population of eighty thousand in the 60’s, the city count barely scratched fifty thousand now, and that number showed itself in the numerous closed storefronts and vacant lots that lined the streets. With the exception of Capitol street, every other one seemed like a random mishmash of drab office buildings and parking garages. I liked my apartment well enough, but I knew it’d take some time for me to warm up to this place.
On the road to Dryfork. Route 32. West Virginia.
Truck lights frame a house in this long exposure taken in the town of Daily along the Seneca Trail.
The John Amos power plant is seen in a long-exposure from across the Kanawha River in Poca, W.Va., on Sunday, November 26, 2017.
WVA Manufacturing. Alloy, W.V.
Night over Gauley Bridge, W.V.
In a city where the median age is 39, making friends in my age bracket hasn’t been easy. Thankfully, that has changed as of recently, and I’m the happiest I’ve been since I moved here. The scene continues to get brighter as new restaurants, cafes, bars and other businesses pop up around town. I’ve made some great friends, and only grown more comfortable here as time has gone on. Meanwhile, West Virginia itself is undeniably beautiful. I’ve swam in more creeks and rivers and done more hiking here then any other place I’ve lived. Nature surrounds you everywhere, and there are few places in the entire country more beautiful than West Virginia in the fall; when the entire state turns into a sea of gold and crimson.
Hawks Nest Overlook.
Lights from a house are illuminated in fog that blankets the road ahead under a starry sky in rural West Virginia
All too often states like West Virginia are depicted in extremely simplistic stereotypes; coal, trump country, moonshine etc. A lot of people would probably be surprised to learn that the coal industry makes up less than 3% of the state workforce, whereas other sectors of the state economy such as healthcare and tourism combined make up over 26%. While it’s true that all 55 counties of West Virginia voted for Trump in the 2016 election, it’s also true that all 55 counties voted for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. More than that, Democrats dominated state politics for generations. It’s only been over the past 20 years or so that West Virginia’s legislature has flipped to a republican majority. Moonshining was popular in West Virginia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but moonshine has since been legalized and sold as a commercial product. Marijuana growing has long replaced moonshine as the illicit product of choice in West Virginia, with cash flows far more lucrative to its cultivators than moonshining ever brought to its distillers.
Star trails swirl around Polaris, the North Star, in this hour-long exposure at Calhoun County Park outside of Grantsville, West Virginia;
Summersville Dam & Gauley River.
Despite a steady stream of stories that come out of here that focus on the things you’d expect to be covered here, the truth is West Virginia is not the backwards, poverty stricken hell hole it’s often made out to be. West Virginia is a complicated state, with a history that is complex and deeply misunderstood. This isn’t to say this state doesn’t have major problems; Near-colonial exploitation of the state’s natural resources for generations by out of state entities that cared little for what collateral damage they inflicted on the land and people, A drug epidemic fueled in part by pharmaceutical companies that flooded West Virginia with prescription drugs, a steady exodus of young people, lack of opportunities, poor education and infrastructure from lack of proper funding. longstanding political corruption that makes a lot of other state governments look saintly in comparison. The list could surely go on.
in Charleston, W.Va., on Thursday, October 22, 2017.
at Dolly Sods on Sunday, September 24, 2017.
in Charleston, W.Va., on Thursday, October 22, 2017.
But I’ve also met a lot of amazing people here; people who love this state and do their best every day to make it better. For each person that may pine for the “good old days”, there’s another person eager to look to a future beyond the resource dependent, boom-bust cycle economy that the state has largely relied on for much its 155 years of existence. I’ve also seen some pretty amazing things. Thousands of teachers across all counties in the state converged for weeks at the capitol demanding higher wages and a stable state health insurance program; a victory that has turned into a movement across the country. 4th and 5th grade students giving presentations to their classmates about everything from ways of solving the opioid crisis to alternative energies, 3d printers and more. People who’ve started farmers markets and greenhouses to alleviate the food deserts that plague the state. People who left the state and came back to open businesses and help their communities grow. I’ve learned a lot living here, and I’m glad I made the decision to do so. I thought i’d end this post with a small gallery of photos in no particular order dedicated to the people who make up West Virginia and give it the spirit it has.
Prestera counselor Sue Howland hugs longtime friend Dawn Streets after having recognized her in Huntington, W.V., on Thursday, April 19, 2018.
Larrecsa Cox of Cabell County EMS lookes over clients that the QRT will visit that day as she sits inside the QRT office of the Cabell County Emergency Service building in Huntington, W.V., on Thursday, April 19, 2018.
Connie Priddy, coordinator of the Quick Response Team stands in the doorway of the QRT office of the Cabell County Emergency Service building in Huntington, W.V., on Thursday, April 19, 2018.
Camp Director Dave Hurd speaks with a colleague before the evening sermon at Shenandoah Family camp in Culloden, W.V. on Thursday, August 02, 2018.
Curator Roger May is seen in the apartment earth art gallery in Charleston, W.V. on Wednesday, August 08, 2018.
From left, Brenden Hosten, Dylan Buckley, Jackson Stanley, Lauren Ballard, Zane Justice and Zamiyah Brooks present their project-based-learning (PBL) showcase on Hydroelectricity inside Mrs. Nesius’s 5th grade classroom at Kenna Elementary School in Charleston, W.V., on Tuesday, May 29, 2018
Dr. Gabriel Al-Hajj poses for a portrait in his office in South Charleston, W.V., on Tuesday, April 24, 2018.
Brianna, Ruth Kelly, Isaac and Kachina have a moment together before sampling the day’s specials at the Fruits Of Labor Cafe in Rainelle, W.V., on Friday, April 13, 2018.
Executive Chef Roy Lynch speaks with a reporter at the Fruits Of Labor Cafe in Rainelle, W.V., on Friday, April 13, 2018.
Sophie Fatu, professional cute kid, poses for a portrait in Charleston, W.V., on Friday, March 09, 2018.
Paul, right, laughs as Gary pretends to tie him to his cart outside of the Charleston Men’s Emergency Shelter in Charleston, W.Va., on Wednesday night, December 13, 2017.
Hurricane High School Redskins celebrate their victory over Wheeling Park High School in the Class AAA state baseball championship at Power Park in Charleston, W.V., on Saturday, June 02, 2018
Mike Pushkin (D – Kanawha, 37) poses for a portrait with his taxicab outside of the State Capitol building in Charleston, W.V., on Tuesday, April 24, 2018.
Dr. Rahul Gupta, state health officer and commissioner for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Bureau, poses for a portrait in his office in downtown Charleston, W.V., on Monday, April 16, 2018.
John Berta of Oceana in Wyoming County, W.Va, shows off his mining helmet before President Trump takes the stage at a rally in support of the Senate candidacy of Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, Monday, Aug. 21, 2018, at the Charleston Civic Center in Charleston, W.Va. Berta worked as a coal miner for 36 years.
Kylie Robinson, forefront, covers her ears as police cars wail their sirens during the third, “Operation Citation” at the Dunbar United Methodist Church in Dunbar, W.Va., on Tuesday, November 28, 2017. Created by the Charleston Police Department Traffic Division, ‚”Operation Citation” honored four Girl Scouts this evening.
West Virginia Governor Jim Justice criticizes an article by the Charleston Gazette-Mail while holding a copy of the newspaper during a rally by President Trump in support of the Senate candidacy of Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, Monday, Aug. 21, 2018, at the Charleston Civic Center in Charleston, W.Va.
West Virginia State Senator Richard N. Ojeda II (D – Logan, 07) poses for a portrait in Logan, W.V., on Thursday, February 22, 2018. Ojeda is seeking the democratic nomination to run for the 3rd congressional district.
Fiddler apprentice Jen Iskow and fiddler master John Morris play a song together inside John’s home in Ivydale, W.V., on Monday, July 30, 2018.
Herbalist apprentice Kara Vaneck follows herbalist master Maron Harless around Maron’s garden outside of Elkins, W.V., on Monday, July 30, 2018.
Dyer Stanard, who participated in the invasion of Normandy and other strategic campaigns of World War II, poses alongside his medals, pictures, patches and other memorabilia inside his garage in Hurricane, W.V., on Wednesday, July 11, 2018.
West Virginia Sons of the American Revolution Association members Zach Mason, left, and Bob Grumbling, respectively dressed as a soldier of the 7th Virginia Militia and as a soldier of the Westmoreland County Pennsylvania Militia, pose for a portrait on West Virginia day outside of the Culture Center in Charleston, W.V., on Wednesday, June 20, 2018.
From left, Joel Mckinney, his mother Linda Mckinney and his wife Melissa Clark speak with a reporter inside Five Loaves & Two Fishes Food Bank in Kimball, W.V., on Tuesday, March 27, 2018.
Chelsea Carter, a former addict who is now a program director and addiction counselor at Appalachian Health Services, is seen in her office in Logan, W.Va., on Friday, January 26, 2018.
Owner, baker and stylist Linda Javins laughs while on the phone inside Guy’s Cut-N-Shave along Midway Road in Yawkey, W.V., on Friday, March 23, 2018.
Huntington Fire Chief Jan Rader embraces Andrea Harrison, a recovering addict during a panel discussion at the University of Charleston in Charleston , W.V., on Thursday, February 15, 2018 after a screening of Sheldon’s Oscar-nominated documentary “Heroin (e)” which focuses on three women dealing with the drug crisis in Huntington. Harrison who thanked the Huntington fire department for providing Naloxone.
Rafael Barker poses for a portrait outside of Underground Cinema in Charleston, W.Va., on Friday, December 08, 2017.
A man walks down Capitol street amidst a squall in Charleston, W.Va., on Tuesday, December 12, 2017.
Bud Sears rocks a baby inside the NICU of Thomas Memorial Hospital in South Charleston, W.V., on November 06, 2017.
Johnny “Tarzan” Copley of Salt Lake City base jumps while dressed as a unicorn during the 40th annual Bridge Day on the New River Gorge bridge in Fayetteville, W.V., on Saturday, October 21, 2017.
Employee Scott Mckenzie is seen inside Appalachian Cannabis Company in Cross Lanes, W.V., on Thursday, August 31, 2017.
Malyka Knapp-Smith gives a hi-five to Asmael Saifo of Syria during her English as a Second Language class at the Garnet Career Center in Charleston on Monday, August 28, 2017.
Hurricane fans crowd the stands during the Hurricane Redskins-Winfield Generals football game at Hurricane High School on Friday, August 25, 2017.
CRAIG HUDSON | Gazette-Mail Cheryl Laws speaks about her plans for Cafe Appalachia inside the former St. John United Methodist Church as her daughter Sydney Atkins looks on in South Charleston, W.V., on Friday, August 18, 2017.
CRAIG HUDSON | Gazette-Mail Belinda Harnass, Housing Authority director for Mingo County, looks into a room at the Sycamore Inn in Williamson, W.V., on Wednesday, August 09, 2017.
CRAIG HUDSON | Gazette-Mail Carol Bellamy, right, and Cickie Cox make chili dogs before the nigh’t festivities in Iaeger, W.V., on Tuesday, August 01, 2017.
CRAIG HUDSON | Gazette-Mail Nada White and Joseph Miller sort through orders at a farmer’s market outside of the Cabin Creek Health Center in Dawes , W.V., on Thursday, July 27, 2017.
Captain Mark Strickland drives on patrol in Charleston on July 26, 2017.
CRAIG HUDSON | Gazette-Mail Eli Hamilton, 7, jumps into the Elk River as his grandfather don watches on Thursday, July 20, 2017.
CRAIG HUDSON | Gazette-Mail Anjeanette Spencer of Columbus OH hoists up her fish as her aunt Catherine Saunders continues to cast her line at Kanawha Falls outside of Glen Ferris, W.V., on Wednesday, July 19, 2017.
CRAIG HUDSON | Gazette-Mail Lois Vance and Mary Aldred-Crouch share a laugh at the Kanawha City Health Center, a branch of Cabin Creek Health Systems in Charleston, W.V., on Tuesday, July 11, 2017.
CRAIG HUDSON | Gazette-Mail Ruth Andrien, a former dancer with Paul Taylor Dance Company, instructs Sheena Madden Jackson during a master class at the Charleston Ballet studio in Charleston, W.Va., on Thursday, June 22, 2017.
Visitors line the street and yard of the famous Kenova Pumpkin House in Kenova, W.V., on Halloween night, October 31, 2017.
Mary Kathren Robinson, longtime Administrator for the Hubbard Hospice House in Charleston, W.V., pauses in front of the memory tree, which is filled with the names of those who have passed on in the care of the hospice house.
I hope the reader understands, even just a little, that there’s a lot more to West Virginia then what you’ve read or heard. Thanks for reading!
I’m afraid that iv’e been away from the desk for far too long! For those of you who don’t already know, I moved to West Virginia exactly one month ago to take a staff position at the Charleston Gazette-Mail, the state’s largest newspaper. Since then I have largely set up my new apartment (I now own a washer and dryer, guess that means i’m an adult now?) and have gotten to know the city and the surrounding area.
So for any of you who might be wondering, why West Virginia? There are a couple of reasons. I wanted wherever I was going to go to be a place where I could share impactful stories. To be sure, this is something that can be done anywhere, as there are always stories to be told no matter where you are.
4th of July along the Kanawha River. Charleston, WV.
Late Afternoon at Blackwater Falls. WV.
However, West Virginia in particular is ground zero for some of the larger issues facing the country today; from the decline of once dominant industries that millions depended upon for their livelihoods to the effects of the opioid epidemic on addicts, their families and the communities that they live in. Those are issues that I want to cover. However, I also don’t have any desire to engage in making work that does nothing but reinforce simplistic (and to many of those who live here, blatantly offensive) stereotypes of the region. Iv’e only been here for a month, and I already know that there are so many good people here who love their state and are doing everything they can to make it better. Those are the people whose stories in particular that I want to tell.
I also like moving to places that have a certain mythos about them. Places that hold a certain image, no matter how true or false, in the American psyche. It’s one of the reasons that I moved to the Black Hills region of South Dakota, an area often associated with “The West” and all of the concepts that come with it. Like the West, Appalachia is more than just the name of a region based on the series of mountain ranges that form it.
Appalachia conjures up images and ideas of a culture, of a certain kind of lifestyle. To cite an example: Don’t act like you haven’t drunkenly belted out the chorus lines to John Denver’s “Take me Home, Country Roads” at least once at some bar or late in the night at your friend’s kegger. I want to experience for myself these kinds of places and see just how much of those ideas and assumptions are made up or hold water.
That’s about what I have for now. I’m going to make a point of writing more frequently on this blog now that I am shooting full time again. I want to write not only about the experiences I am having now but also what experiences i have had and the lessons learned from them that someone else looking to become a photojournalist themself might find useful. I also want to start sharing more of my travel guides again, as I have a lot to say about the places that iv’e been, including a comprehensive guide to Washington, D.C.
This was an unplanned trip, unplanned in that I only knew I wanted to see Glacier National Park and possibly the Tetons. I left Friday afternoon and came back early Tuesday morning, and in that time covered nearly 2000 miles. Supplementing my current writings are notes jotted down in my pocket journal while on the trip, which are in italics.
Starting out from Rapid City, the highway led along the northern border of the Black Hills to 212, a direct route through the Northeast corner of Wyoming into Montana. I had never been to Montana before and was looking forward to this trip.
Broadus, MT. 4:25 P.M:In Powder River country now. Montana is so far a continuation of Wyoming in terms of landscape, however taking into account its ridges and rocky outcroppings I think larger differences are to come.
While I had driven through Central and Northeast Wyoming; an impressively expansive land, Montana posessed a terrain I was not prepared for in scope and vastness. While ranch lands were aplenty, much of the landscape remained unrepresented by human intervention save for the nonnative grasses that permeated the land. The valleys, foothills and ridges stretched onward to the bighorn mountains; named so for the sheep that inhabit them.
I had arrived too late to tour the little bighorn battlefield which closed about an hour earlier, but I could easily say that the land itself was among the most beautiful that I have ever seen of any battlefield. Hawks flew high above the prairie dog towns that dotted the landscape.
Continuing on after stopping briefly in Billings, It became dark as I was nearing Bozeman Pass. Stopping briefly to walk under the bright neon signs lining Livingston, I continued through the pass and down into Bozeman. Being home to Montana State University, Bozeman has a solid nightlife scene with a main street lined with bars, dance clubs, restaurants and cheap eats.
Bozeman, MT. 11:15 A.M. Trying to make time to Helena, but land is incredible. The foothills and ridges surrounding Little Bighorn are among the most beautiful i’ve ever seen, stretching all the way to the Bighorn Mountains. Bozeman a wonderful college town with quite the nightlife for its size.
Being that I came through Bozeman pass at night, It was the next morning that I saw the series of mountain ranges that surrounded Bozeman. From there I immediately got on the road, wanting to make it to the area surrounding Glacier National Park before nightfall.
Helena: 1:15 P.M.The only place i’ve been that I can compare West Montana to would be Alaska.
The route to the state capital Helena was 287, with tilled fields and railroad tracks on one side and the Missouri river on the other.
Kalispell: 10:00 P.M. I started the day by drivingup from Bozeman, The drive up went well enough; though the distances are vast it certainly doesn’t feel that way with the terrain being as it is.
From Helena I took route 12 further West where the road abruptly rose into the hills, from which there were fantastic views of the surroundings valleys.
Descending from the ridge into another large valley, I suddenly turned onto a rural route that winded through ranch land that seemed to go on forever, only stopping at the foot of the nearest mountain ridge where a series of rainstorms were inundating the landscape.
Driving past a series of lakes and mountain peaks, I eventually reached route 83, which hugged the Swan range for hundreds of miles to reach the Kalispell valley.
The road up was through a wide valley with mountains towering on each adjacent side, passing through little towns such as Swan Lake while rolling the windows up and down sporadically with each passing microclimate.
I saw two bald eagles feeding off of a carcass on the side of the road here. Also saw what I thought to be a black bear sneaking off of the road as i passed it before the lake itself.
I eventually arrived just outside of Glacier in the late afternoon as a series of rainstorms were passing over the range and surrounding area.
Passing through these farmlands, I turned Northeast onto a road that hugged the North Fork of the Flathead River, whose waters originate in the Canadian Rockies.
I drove up adjacent to the north fork of the flathead river; a sizeable river with a beautiful turquoise hue that very much reminded me of the waters in Alaska.
The road zig-zagged through the immense gorge following the river until coming to a bridge over it which was gated off; closed for the season.
The road was closed over the bridge of the fork leading further into Glacier National Park, but I managed to get some decent pictures over the river before giving into the temptation of driving up the nearby trail creek road that ascended over the valley.
I tried to find a clearing in those bastard juvenile pine trees but gave up after becoming exhausted trudging through knee-deep snow and failing to find any clearing significant enough for a clean shot of the best part of the sunset over the mountain peaks.
However I was able to see with my own eyes the violet and before that golden light surrounding the towering peaks as the sun went down, and that has been good enough for me.
That night I decided to head for Missoula, in order to put myself in a better position for the drive to the Tetons the next day. Even without the moon I could still make out the massive body of water that was flathead lake. Continuing on through small towns and rural areas, I was trailed by no less than four separate police vehicles; the officers most likely being bored out of their minds in rural Montana at 2 am.
I spent a little time walking around Missoula before heading South on I-15 to Northern Idaho.
Tetons. 3:45 PM. Drove down from Missoula through mountain passes into Northern Idaho. I have never seen a valley so vast as that of which interstate 15 passes through. Coupled with one of the most visually fascinating concentrated rainstorms I have ever seen over an almost desert like terrain, it was quite a sight.
Upon getting out of the rainstorm and driving through gentle rises the land changed again to tilled fields that stretched for miles.
I photographed what I could of the tetons from the Idaho side before entering the teton pass…
was a bit riveting as it was dark and the highbeams of my car lit every piece of snowfall. It was a bit like being in the millennium falcon at lightspeed, stupid as that sounds. Found a good room and was given two slices of free pizza from a guy at Pinky G’s before having a beer at Snake River brewing.
Jackson hole itself is beautiful, with the town square and look of the town was everything I hoped it would be.
I have now been spending the day checking out areas per the suggestions of Lyford and the bartender at Dornan’s. People here are the nicest I think I’ve ever experienced in any particular place. I have seen quite a few moose around the park as I wait for fog to life which continues to inundate the Tetons. I hope that it will clear if only briefly for me to capture or at least see it before I turn east back to South Dakota.
Unfortunately it was soon after I wrote this that a snowstorm from the West moved in and completely inundated the mountains as well as the valley in quick succession. I decided to leave then, taking the road from Jackson Lake to Highway 26 which passed through the continental divide. The area itself was filled with buttes and peaks whose color and formations astounded me.
Marker for the Continental Divide. Wyoming.
Trees and hills amidst Highway 26. Wyoming.
Eventually, 26 would lead into the fronier-styled town of Dubois and the desertlike terrain of the Wind River Reservation. I’d be hard pressed to think of another place where the difference in terrain from one side of the road to the other is so stark as it is here.
Looking right going West on Route 26.
Looking left going West on Route 26.
The wind river itself snaked under the road many times, adding an additional touch of beauty to a landscape that had suddenly turned into one that looked like Arizona more than anything else.
It wasn’t long before the sun began to set, and I pulled over from route 26 onto a crest overlooking a reservoir. I took a couple frames as dusk was settling in.
There are roads across central Wyoming that stretch 100 miles at a time in total darkness with not a light to be seen except those of oncoming cars and 18-wheelers. With both of us moving at over 80 miles an hour, the semi’s shake my car to an uncomfortable degree as they go by. In such conditions one cannot tell if a car is one mile away or ten, as there is nothing with which to associate the distance. It was a bit of a surreal experience really.
After what felt like a lot longer than 10 hours, I made it home early Tuesday morning. So i’m going to wrap this up. Thanks for checking out this post!