West Virginia by Night: the works of Jesse Thornton

West Virginia by Night: the works of Jesse Thornton
Stargazers park along the remote Highland Scenic Highway in Pocahontas County. (Photo courtesy Jesse Thornton.)

Rural and mountainous, West Virginia is home to some of the most star-spangled skies in the eastern U.S. — a circumstance of which photographer Jesse Thornton has made good use.


Car lights trace highways along Seneca Creek (upper right) and the North Fork of the South Branch.

Seen from the top of Seneca Rocks, car lights trace US-33 and WV-55 through the vale of the North Fork of the . The Allegheny Front and Spruce Knob, highest point in West Virginia, rise to more than 4,000 feet above sea level in the distance.

The Milky Way rises out of a mist beyond Gandy Creek in the highlands of Randolph County.

Fog gathers over the vale of Gandy Creek in the Allegheny Mountains in Randolph County. Not far away the stream disappears into its legendary "sinks" and reappears not far distance. Spelunkers often make a watery trip through the Sinks of Gandy.

Headlights travel across the New River in its gorge near Fayetteville, West Virginia.

The Milky Way spans the sky above the New River Gorge and the landmark New River Gorge Bridge. As viewed from Sunshine Buttress, the old Fayette Station Bridge crosses the river beneath. (The image is available on gallery-wrapped canvas in several sizes here.)


The lights of Charleston, the capital of West Virginia, shimmer in the Kanawha River.

Brilliantly lighted, the West Virginia statehouse and its gilded dome dominate the vale of the Kanawha River above the East End of Charleston, West Virginia. Homes in the city's South Hills and Fort Hills districts ascend the hillside beyond.

The New River turns around Beury Mountain in its narrowing valley in the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.

Homes that remain in the ghost town of glow in the darkness of the New River Valley upstream of the New River Gorge. Managed by the National Park Service, the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve protects more than 70,000 acres in southern W.Va.

The Byrd Telescope glows red and blue in the Allegheny darkness at Green Bank.

The world's largest fully steerable radio telescope, one of largest moveable structures in the world, glows in the dark at Green Bank in the National Radio Quiet Zone. Back-Allegheny Mountain (in the distance) and other highlands protect the site from radio interference.

Mercury, Venus, and a waxing crescent moon rise above the valley of the Ohio River.

From left the right, a crescent moon, bright Venus, and dim Mercury rise above the darkening valley of the Ohio River at Green Bottom, nearly midway between the mouth of the Guyandotte River at and the mouth of the at .


Leaning over the Endless Wall, a shadowy figure offers a star to the moon beyond New River Gorge.

Titled by the photographer "A Gift for Selene," a reference to the Greek Titan goddess of the moon, who rode across the sky in her silver chariot, Thornton himself poses with an arm outstretched over the Endless Wall cliffs overlooking the New River.

Stargazers park along the remote Highland Scenic Highway in Pocahontas County.

Thornton awaits dawn on the Highland Scenic Highway in the Allegheny Mountains near Marlinton, beneath some of the darkest skies in West Virginia. The skies just east of the highway over the Cranberry Wilderness are among the most star-spangled in the state.

The East Huntington Bridge towers over the Ohio River at Huntington, West Virginia.

Pleasure-craft dock along the Ohio River near the East Huntington Bridge. The cable-stayed span was completed in 1985 and in 2006 was named Frank "Gunner" Gatski Memorial Bridge in honor of Marshall University's first member of the Pro-Football Hall of Fame.

The Mann Mountain Firetower rises into the night sky on Chestnut Knob near Danese, West Virginia.

The night's sky spirals around the North Star beyond the Mann Mountain Firetower on Chestnut Knob. One of the last of the state's historic lookouts, the tower stands on an isolated rise east of the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve and south of Babcock State Park.


Stars travel the sky above a barn near Apple Grove along the Ohio River.

A barn collapses beneath the night's sky near Apple Grove. What befell the stars, so too the world of man, Thornton muses, quoting author Neil Gaiman: “I sat in the dark and thought: There’s no big apocalypse. Just an endless procession of little ones.”

An abandoned boat lies stranded during a draw-down at Summersville Lake.

The wreck of the Thomas Patrick lies above winter pool on Summersville Lake, the largest lake in West Virginia at 2,700 acres. The lake is renowned for its wooded coves and cliff-lined shores, the most developed of which attract thousands of rock climbers annually.

The full moon rises above the passenger station at Prince in the narrow valley of the New River.

The full moon rises above the historic passenger station at Prince, a landmark of the Streamline Moderne style of architecture. Though a rural stop, the station straddles the mainline of the C&O Railroad, an Amtrak between New York City and Chicago, Ill.

More than 3,000 jack-o'-lanterns line the street at the Griffith House in Kenova, West Virginia.

Some of the more-than-3,000 carved pumpkins at the Griffith House glow warmly during the Halloween season in Kenova. Volunteers led by former mayor Ric Griffith spend three weeks carving the jack-o'-lanterns for the annual Ceredo-Kenova Autumnfest.


A full moon peeks over the towering blade of Seneca Rocks. Photo courtesy Jesse Thornton.

The moon casts its eye through a notch on the south peak of Seneca Rocks. A blade of quartzite turned on its edge and lifted hundreds of feet skyward, the formation popular with climbers towers above the village of Seneca Rocks at the mouth of Seneca Creek.

The Milky Way travels across the sky above Calhoun County in north-central West Virginia.

Light escapes from a cabin in Calhoun County Park in the valley of the Little Kanawha in north-central West Virginia. The hills in and near the county are part of one of the darkest areas in the state, and the park is a popular destination for star-gazers.

The moon glows like a diminished sun over a pond along the Ohio at Green Bottom.

Light otherwise unavailable to human eyes is captured by Thornton's camera at the Green Bottom Wildlife Management Area on the Ohio River near Lesage. The moon glows like a setting sun in a darkness far from more populous areas in the valley.

Stars spin above the Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory on Peters Mountain.

More than 400 photographs, taken over about 2.5 hours, are combined in this shot of a night's sky spinning above the Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory on Peters Mountain.


Much of Thornton's work is available for purchase through his website, . Thornton says of his work:

Jesse Thornton
Jesse Thornton

"It’s probably safe to say that we all have taken photographs of some of the amazing scenes we encounter in our environment only to look back on them with some disappointment: The photo doesn’t quite live up to the feeling you had when you were there in the moment. There’s a certain richness, depth, and vastness to the environment that’s missing.

"Part of my goal as a photographer is to bring back whatever that 'thing' is by utilizing all the tools at my disposal, from my camera to my computer. It will never be possible to fully give the viewer the feeling of being there, but my hope is to spark an emotion and an urge to get out there and live the experience for yourself."

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