Ofu Beach is an approximately 2.5-mile stretch of white sand and palm trees and the only section of the National Park of American Samoa on Ofu Island. Wonderfully remote, but still accessible fairly easily by flight or boat, the Ofu section of the park has few visitors. I spent four days on the island in blissful solitude, exploring the beach, snorkeling the beautiful reef and hiking a few trails on Ofu and the connected island of Olosega.
I took this photo of Ofu Beach around sunset during my third day on the island. The sky had been overcast for most of my stay up to that point, and I was concerned that the light would be too dull to make a nice photo. The clouds ended up having some subtle colors as the sun went down that I think complement with the rest of the scene. Together with the smooth rush of surf and limpid water of the reef, I think the photo effectively communicates the feeling of tranquility I had at the time.
The National Park of American Samoa is spread across the islands of Tutuila, Ofu and T’au in the U.S. territory of American Samoa and is one of the most remote and least visited of the national parks. It also holds the unique distinction of being the only U.S. national park located in the southern hemisphere. The park holds and protects tropical rain forests on the islands’ volcanic slopes, beaches and coral reefs as well as birds, fish and other wildlife that thrive within those environments.
I chose to visit the National Park of American Samoa back in 2019 partly out of fascination with its remoteness and an interest in South Pacific islands in general, but also out of a desire to visit as many national parks as I can in my lifetime. Coming from Taiwan where I reside for part of every year, the park seemed closer than if I were to come from my home in South Carolina. Still, getting there involved flying from Taiwan to Hong Kong, Hong Kong to New Zealand, New Zealand to Samoa, taking a long taxi ride across the island of Upolu in Samoa from one airport to another, and then flying on a small plane from Samoa across the International Date Line and back in time 24 hours to American Samoa. The entire journey took well over a day.
Once in American Samoa, traveling to the more remote sections of the park in the Manu’a Islands involved a flight on a well-used Twin Otter aircraft to T’au and chartering a small fishing boat that puttered across rough seas from there to Ofu. The splendid isolation coupled with the beauty of the island and the park was well worth the journey, and the adventure of getting there made my experience on the island that much more enjoyable.
I plan to share some more photos and experiences from my time in the National Park of American Samoa, so please check back or subscribe to this blog if you are interested.
Hazel Mountain Overlook is one of many scenic viewpoints along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. Located near milepost 33, this northeast-facing overlook is a great place to view the sunrise and has a beautiful view of the namesake mountain, a valley and surrounding countryside. Large boulders and a distinctive, lone pine tree add to the appeal of the area, and I knew soon after arriving that they were elements that I wanted to include in any photograph I took here.
Camping at Big Meadows Campground near milepost 51, I thought that if I left around 5:00 a.m., I would have enough time to make it to Hazel Mountain Overlook and set up my camera in time for sunrise. It ended up taking me longer drive to and locate the pullout, however, so by the time I arrived the sun was already beginning to rise. I hastily set up my camera at what seemed like a good spot and took a few photos. I was fairly satisfied with the results but knew I could do better with proper scouting and timing.
After the sun rose more and the light became harsh, I packed up my camera and walked around the area to see if I could find a better location to set up my tripod the next morning. After a scramble down the rocks and through some brush, I found my ideal spot. I made a mental note of the location and route to get there, so I could find it again in the dark.
I returned the next morning without incident and took the photo above with my FujiFilm GFX 50R medium-format camera and GF 30mm f/3.5 R WR lens. It was breezy that morning, so the biggest challenge to taking the photo I visualized was timing the exposure to keep the branches and leaves sharp on the foreground bushes and prominent tree on the right.
A few weeks ago, I spent a several days exploring and photographing Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. I had been to the park before a long time ago, but that visit was just a quick stop during a trip to the Northeast. I have been meaning to properly visit the park for a few years and going there during spring seemed like a perfect time as I expected the park to be lush and green, the wildflowers to be in bloom and the park’s many streams and waterfalls to be in full flow. A few weeks before leaving, I reserved a few nights at the Big Meadows Campground and started looking into places to go in the park.
The departure date for my trip unfortunately coincided with the gas shortage resulting from panic buying in the wake of the cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline. Unsure of how easily I would be able to find gas along the way as well as in or around the park, I briefly considered not going. After some consideration, I decided not to let uncertainty ruin my trip and left as planned. I took extra caution while driving, though, stopping every hundred miles to top off my gas tank. The plan worked well until I got close to the park, where I could not find any fuel at all. Still, by the time I arrived at Big Meadows, I had more than a half tank of gas. That ended up being enough to get by over the next several days as the gas supply began to improve.
Shenandoah is a long and narrow park positioned atop the crest of the Blue Ridge. The magnificent Skyline Drive spans the entire length of the park, running north to south for 105 miles. Shenandoah National Park was created in 1935 as automobile ownership and travel was becoming more popular, and the park was expressly designed to be enjoyed by car. There are dozens of scenic overlooks along the road, accessible by convenient pullouts situated on both sides of the road seemingly every few hundred yards. Due to the orientation of the park road, the majority of overlooks face east or west, making them ideal for viewing (and photographing) sunrise and sunset.
Although Shenandoah is centered around Skyline Drive, it also rewards exploration on foot. There are many hiking trails within the park, including the Appalachian Trail, which runs the entire length of the park and follows the same crest as Skyline Drive. Other trails of varying length and difficulty often lead to summits with scenic views or waterfalls.
I spent three days in Shenandoah, which was enough time to leisurely explore all of Skyline Drive, stop at many of the overlooks and hike a few trails. My days consisted of waking up early to photograph sunrise from one of the overlooks, spending the daylight hours scouting new locations and exploring the park, and then hiking or driving to another scenic overlook to photograph during sunset. Since the sun rises around 6:00 a.m. and sets after 8:00 p.m. during May, this schedule made for very long days, especially factoring in driving times to and from my campsite. The ease of getting around the park, abundant roadside overlooks and the short length of hikes to even more scenic views, however, make it easy to shoot multiple locations in a single day. The beauty and convenience of Shenandoah make it a wonderful and rewarding place for landscape photography.