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.
Seen from the top of Seneca Rocks, car lights trace US-33 and WV-55 through the vale of the North Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac. The Allegheny Front and Spruce Knob, highest point in West Virginia, rise to more than 4,000 feet above sea level in the distance.
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.
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.)
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.
Homes that remain in the ghost town of Thurmond 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 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.
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 Huntington and the mouth of the Kanawha at Point Pleasant.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.”
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, Reflection in a Pool. Thornton says of his work:
"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."