After returning from West Virginia I’ve been keeping an eye on the weather for Meadows of Dan, Virginia. Why? Well, this tiny community along the Blue Ridge Parkway on the banks of the Dan River is the home of maybe the most photographed old grist mill in the country. Mabry Mill. My goal was to capture the mill in all of winter’s glory. Last Thursday the forecast called for a winter storm warning with 5 to 9 inches of snow and up to a foot in some areas of Patrick County. Grab the camera, gas the car and go!
Five and a half hours later we reached Hillsville, VA around 3:30pm. The first flakes were beginning to fall. We filled the tank of our 4-wheel drive Sequoia and headed out to Meadows of Dan. By the time we reached Mabry Mill, the snow was really coming down. Almost white-out conditions. Oh yeah!
This area holds a special place in my heart because I grew up 35 miles down the road in Galax, Virginia. My parents also had a vacation home on Groundhog Mountain near Blue Ridge Parkway milepost – 190. That’s less than 14 miles from Mabry Mill. I’ve been to Mabry Mill many times over the years but, I still enjoy seeing it again.
Thursday evening I shot images in the falling snow until around 4:30pm. At that point it was getting too dark to shoot and we needed to check in to our hotel in Hillsville. It took us an hour and a half to drive 25 miles but, I knew the next morning my wish would be granted and we would have LOTS of snow.
We were not disappointed…
With no one around but us, I picked the spot I wanted, set up my gear and waited for the first golden rays of sun to peak over the horizon. Like magic, the tops of the snow filled trees were suddenly bathed in warm color that reflected off of the water. The white monochrome scene was engulfed in color.
The mill itself is down in a hole surrounded by trees and the raised elevation of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Here you can see the Parkway on the left with one lone set of tracks and sunlight just starting to illuminate the roof of the mill. The trees are still casting long shadows across the snow.
Temperatures on Thursday had been just above freezing until late in the afternoon and were in the high 20’s that night. As a result, we got a heavy, wet snow that clung to the trees. Without any doubt, this was a winter wonderland. It looked completely surreal and almost contrived. Maybe somebody in the night sprayed fake snow over all the trees!
Without any doubt, this was a winter wonderland
The bright white trees were perfectly highlighted by the deep blue cloudless sky. Everywhere you looked it was astounding. My wife grew up in Wisconsin and neither she nor I had ever seen a more beautiful snow scene.
At this point it’s 10am and the sun is getting higher. More of the mill is revealed from the darkness. This is an unusual view but, I liked the stair step pattern made by the Parkway bridge and the buildings of the mill combined with the white trees and blue sky. I placed the camera to allow for an unobstructed view under the bridge.
There are several other old structures near the mill including this 19th century cabin. It sits very close to the spot where Ed Mabry and his wife, Lizzie, lived until the 1930’s. The original Mabry home was torn down by the Park Service in 1942 even though Mabry built the home himself from lumber milled on site.
…they wanted Ed Mabry seen as a pioneer
Evidently, they wanted old Ed to be seen as more of a pioneer. We’re lucky that the mill itself wasn’t destroyed when the Parkway was constructed. Although the purpose of the mill today is to grind corn and buckwheat (and attract tourists), it originally was a multipurpose factory. The water power was also used for a sawmill, blacksmith shop and wheelwright shop. The Park Service has “fluffed up” the site a bit. Ed Mabry may not recognize things as they are today but, there’s no denying the beauty.
With so much natural splendor surrounding me it’s hard to maintain focus. Finally, I found a lone snow covered tree to isolate against the blue sky. it’s nearly 11am by now but, there’s still good light and the sun is low enough to create interesting shadows.
There’s time for one last image of the mill before we depart. The light’s a little harsher but, it clearly shows the rich colors of the mill set in its high-contrast white monochrome surroundings.
A spur-of-the-moment trip to capture a beautiful snow filled scene. We did it! And lots of good memories along the way.
Our next destination? Who knows!