Riding Shotgun: the Trip from Myrtle

I imagine many of you were directed here by my blog about the drive home from Myrtle Beach this summer.  As you read there, our typical process for a back roads trip was flipped on its head – instead of driving us home, I rode shotgun.  This allowed me to take an inordinate number of photographs, and as I said in the blog, for every one picture that made the cut, there were another five or ten that didn’t.  Instead of letting those equally good pictures forever rot in secret, buried in the hidden corners of my cellphone, I’ve decided to create a parallel blog for them.

I’m not going to try to get them even close to being in chronological order.  They’re probably not even going to end up in a logical order.  Instead, I’m going to talk about some of them as they talk to me.  You’ll note that several of the pictures that made the blog are here as well – I will explain a little more about why they made the cut.  I hope that you enjoy looking through them and learning a little bit more about the process behind creating the blog about one of my favorite back road adventures.

We’ll start off with my favorite picture from the entire trip.  I cannot even explain why, but something about this picture moves me every time I look at it.  I initially tried to lighten up the face of the barn a little so you could see the outlines of the boards better, but after it was done, I found that I preferred the almost-darkness of the face of it better.  It gives a remarkable contrast between the lightness of the surroundings and the shadowy future of small farms in America.
Had Amanda not driven, I would’ve never been able to capture all the pictures that I did.  She’s probably going to hate that I included this picture not only in the main blog, but here as well.  But I love so many things about this picture – the way you can see the reflection in her sunglasses, the Jeep logo naturally highlighted by the sun, the way the window creates a perfect frame around the industrial building in the background.
I had a really hard time not including this picture in the blog, for what I hope are obvious reasons.  I’m just glad that, as we were riding, I was paying enough attention to my surroundings to notice and capture a tree growing out of the top of a dilapidated silo.
This is a great example of a little bit of photo-editing “saving” an otherwise unusable picture.  I was going to include the original version of this picture for comparison, but there are already far too many pictures to look through.  You’ll just have to trust me that, had I not touched up the picture, it definitely wouldn’t have made the cut – in spite of being the only picture I was able to catch of the rundown Virginia City sign.
Another example of editing morphing the unusable into making the final cut.  This one was centered wrong, the color & lighting were poor, & although it was the only picture I got of a tobacco farm, it just wasn’t good enough to use.  Good editing makes all the difference.
My third and final example of some minor retouching completely saving a picture.
This one made the cut
This one didn’t.  In spite of being very similar pictures from virtually the same perspective, I chose to go with the picture above as my representation of Wytheville.  Why pick one over the other, in spite of both providing a good view of some of the old-fashioned retail architecture found in downtown Wytheville?  Each picture has what I consider to be a central focus, the “concept” I was trying to capture.  I was trying to capture that left-behind Americana feel you experience in Wytheville:  In the top picture, the building on the left side of the frame was the centerpiece, and in the bottom, the 50’s style signs & layout of Courts Drug was.  After struggling with it for a while, I decided I found the building to be more striking and eye-catching, so the top picture won out.
In spite of the mundane simplicity of this picture, I had a really hard time leaving it out – in fact, perhaps I had a hard time leaving it out BECAUSE of that mundane simplicity.  To me, a picture like this captures the very plain beauty of agriculture in America, and the fact that I captured the jet of water splitting apart mid-stream made it hard to turn down.  It didn’t directly fit into any part of the story, so it didn’t make the cut.
Yet another picture that I felt captured the essence of back roads driving, but because it didn’t tie directly into any particular aspect of the story I was creating, it didn’t make the cut.  The editing made this picture even more striking to me, and I love the almost fire-burnt crackle of the bark on the pine tree behind the sign.  I love this picture.


The two versions of the brick building above are the first of a couple pictures I took where there were several different “interpretations” of the picture that could be made, based upon how the picture was edited.  In this picture, we find a dilapidated old utility building parked in front of a very traditional southern church.  Though not a good fit for a run down business, the brick building was definitely the centerpiece of the picture; but how should it be highlighted?  The black and white picture presents a stark version of the overall reality of the scene, and creates a powerful expression of the grim future many small towns face.  The colorized version smacks you in the face with several contrasts – between the durability of the brick façade and the other building materials used, between the degradation of the brick building and the maintenance of the property surrounding it, not to mention the stark beauty of the church behind it.  At the end of the day, I love both versions, but the colorized picture is more moving to me.


This trio of versions of a large church we saw in Wytheville are another great example of three different ways to explore the same story.  The top picture is the original unretouched version that I took.  It is bright, upbeat, and encouraging.  The perspective of the picture gives it power and clarity, and allows the church to stand over you, tall and proud…. but with a very positive connotation.  The blue skies and white face of the building are uplifting.  In the two black and white versions of the picture, however, the tall façade of the church looms over you in a dominating and almost scary manner:  this is not an inviting place.  The very welcoming and well-maintained building of the original picture becomes very unfriendly and intimidating in the second and third.


As with the church, these versions of the solitary tree in the middle a verdant pasture provide two entirely different perspectives.  In the first, the mood is bright, encouraging, and uplifting to look at.  It could easily be the stock picture used in one of those motivational posters that were all the rage about ten years ago.  In the second, the mood has quickly become gloomy, discouraged, and almost depressed. It’s a very solemn picture, and would be at home on the front of a card offering you condolences.


This picture, and the three that follow it, were attempts I made to capture the scenery of the rolling farmlands in the foothills of the North Carolina mountains.  I feel that all four do an excellent job of presenting a captivating look at hillside farming in the south, in spite of the fact that the first and second were taken mere seconds apart.  They all capture the peaceful scenery that I love so much when taking back roads – the unkempt scrub of pasture surrounding barns and houses, the way the buildings and trees meld perfectly with the rolling topography of the land, the varied states of maintenance (or lack thereof) seen in barns, outbuildings, homes, and vehicles, and the tree-lined or fence-lined boundaries.



This picture perfectly captures the feel of back roads driving:  simplistic natural landscapes, the warmth of the sun and the occasionally blinding contrast between fluffy white clouds and beautifully blue skies, blended with the laissez-faire relaxation of an arm hanging out the window catching the pleasant breeze.
This picture, and the three that follow it, are very good examples of one of the most basic conundrums of travel photography:  No matter how technically-sound your picture(s) may be, they will never fully capture the experience you’re having at that moment.  Even a fully panoramic photo would only capture a glimpse of the perspective you’re actually witnessing.  Being fully immersed in natural beauty on the grand scale that we saw in these mountains very dramatically exceeds the capabilities of virtually all modern cameras – especially the ones found on your average cell phone.


This picture and the several that follow it are my attempts at somehow capturing the magnetism I felt during our brief pass-through visit of Sparta NC.  It is what I would call the essentially eastern mountain town – charmingly cute, warmly welcoming, and incredibly well-blended into its surroundings.  Sparta is one of the few places on earth where I can say that breathing the crisp mountain air was quite literally refreshing…. or even, dare I say it, invigorating.  I can’t even fully understand why I found Sparta to be so incredibly endearing to me; it just was.  I loved it there, and I hope I find the time to go back soon.



This is the view from the Trojan Patio, and it (and the picture following) are ideal examples of the frustrating conundrum I explored earlier.  These pictures don’t even BEGIN to capture the experience of being in Sparta, and never more than this moment was I so insanely aggravated by the obvious limitations of using a cell phone camera to try to capture a moment.  The intent of this picture and the next were to try to capture the way that the architecture, landscaping, and especially the winding roadways fully integrated with the mountainous surroundings.  Even having lined myself up such that the yellow paint on the pavement points towards my goal, finding the road in this picture is some sort of ridiculous needle-in-a-haystack type search that leaves no trace whatsoever that it was supposed to be one of the central features of this picture.  Standing there with average eyesight, it was easy to see the way that the road twists its way through town and up the mountainside, but to try to capture the same perspective with a cell phone camera was damn near impossible.
As above, even with editing & framing elements, I was completely unable to even begin to capture the actual reality of the way that Rt 21 wound through Sparta & climbs up into the mountains.  This will likely be, much to my detriment, a permanent thorn in my side.
Papa Church, Mama Church, and Baby Church.  This little scene amused me for several days.
This picture would be completely boring to pretty much anyone other than me without an explanation of why I took it and the story that, at least to me, it captures very effectively.  This picture presents a perfect contrast between the stark realities of American life that I am attempting to bring to life in Take Back Roads in general, and in the Convenience blog (the link to which can be found below, since my stupid computer will NOT for some unknown reason allow me to hyperlink within the caption of this picture) I posted recently in particular:  a small-town mom-and-pop burger joint, sitting in front of the megalithic American icon behind it.  But that’s only one of the characteristics that make me love this picture.  I love that the water tower peeking over the trees in the background tells us exactly where this contrast takes place.  I love that the place is called “Better Burger.”  I also love that the sign hanging in the window reading “Thank You Jesus” tells some sort of mysterious story, though I don’t have any idea what it is.  Why do I say this?  Because during our several hours driving through the back hills and mountains of North Carolina, we saw countless hundreds of those signs dotting the landscape.  There were stretches of several miles at a time where nearly every yard or business had one of those signs either perched in a window as above or placed in a very stately position near the roadside.  I have no idea who made the signs or why they handed them out.  They have no apparent affiliation to any particular church or creed.  They all simply say, “Thank You Jesus.”  When seeing these signs, one cannot help but wonder the following things:  Why have the yards and businesses where they are not to be found declined putting them there?  Are these people and businesses looked down upon in the community for (not) doing so?  And is Jesus sitting somewhere in heaven, smiling down, thinking “You’re welcome.” ?


The Blog about Convenience can be found here.

But is it ACTUALLY a Better Burger?  It seems unlikely that I will ever find out.


The next several pictures were taken to employ a very foundational photographic technique called a “Vanishing Point.”  Put simply, vanishing point utilizes natural landscape elements, framing, and perspective (or point of view) to focus a picture on a spot or point off in the distance where, if the picture were able to continue long enough, everything in sight would vanish.  Another way to explain it would be that a picture is laid out such that it’s almost as if you are looking down an ever-narrowing cone that comes to a point off in the distance – your “vanishing point.”  One thing I often try to do in taking pictures for Take Back Roads is to utilize and even manipulate the actual road I’m on to take advantage of vanishing point photography and landscapes.  The next four pictures are perfect examples of me doing so on the trip home from Myrtle Beach.



In this picture, I’m actually using the vanishing point to highlight a particular pine tree that I found to be visually interesting to me.


Here, the vanishing point is slight off-center, allowing the barn to be an integral part of the focus of the picture.


This is the other side of the barn that is my favorite picture from this trip (the one I lead off with on this page).  I thought this was a cute enough little scene, but it really serves to highlight the remarkable difference a little change of perspective can make.  It’s only through a sheer stroke of luck that I liked the scene enough to find motivation to lean out the window, turn around, and capture the picture of the other side of the barn as we were driving away from it.  Had I not done that and we simply continued on our merry way, I would not have the picture that I consider to be the center piece of my story.

The last several pictures below each tells a small story, and relates just a bit more of our experience during the drive home from Myrtle Beach.  I hope that you enjoyed reading about the thoughts and emotions and work that went into creating The Drive to Myrtle: Heading Home, and I sincerely hope that these pictures and stories will serve to motivate you to find your own back roads home.  As always, thank you for reading!



Don’t forget to read the original story!  Thanks for taking time to read my work!


  1. […] Thankfully though, as powerful as this imagery and experience truly was, it certainly was not the only thing we saw, and ultimately was not our primary takeaway from the drive home. And, for the first time in my life, for the entirety of this back road journey my perspective was as a passenger: Amanda drove us home, and I rode shotgun. […]

  2. I so love your pictures. I know where my next trip will take me! These are great! The first set of pics comparing color and black/white, I like the black/white one better. But the church? Most definitely the color! So glad Amanda was willing to drive to allow you the opportunity to take these pictures. Beautiful!
    I just came back from Shenandoah National Park, and took back roads to get there, (thanks to you!). Lovely, calm, peaceful. Highways on the return trip? Not so much. Although I did find myself at one point coming back on a very narrow road about 2 miles long (no other cars), gravel and dirt. I thought about you Scott, and thought, now this is a back road!!

    • Thank you Cindy! The funny part is, Amanda most assuredly didn’t “let” me drive – she forced me to be passenger! She wanted to drive the back roads this time – it was her first time on a long trip on back roads, and it was her Jeep, so I very begrudgingly (at first) let her drive – not without putting up a fight! But I’m glad I did – it allowed me to get lots of pictures!

      Sounds like you had a great trip! Feel free to write it up and post it, if you want, or send it to me and I can post if for you if you prefer! Thanks again for your kind words!

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