Posted by: kerryl29 | July 18, 2016

The Finger Lakes: Schuyler & Tompkins Counties

As I mentioned in my entry on my first day in the Finger  Lakes region, my plan was to arrive at Watkins Glen State Park at first light on this, my second full day in the area. The main attraction at Watkins Glen is the gorge trail, which snakes for roughly a mile in a deep crevasse cut by Glen Creek.  There are numerous waterfalls and cascades along the way.

There were two very good reasons to enter the park as early as possible.  The first?  The gorge trail can become very, very crowded during “prime business hours.”  And, given how narrow the gorge trail is in many spots, photography can be a quite a trying and frustrating experience.  The second reason to hit the park first thing in the morning?  The forecast for the day was sun, sun and more sun.  On the theory that the gorge would be in shade early in the morning, I determined that this was the best time to visit.

Everything went according to plan, for about 10 seconds.  I arrived at Watkins Glen at dawn.  There wasn’t another car in the parking lot.  As the light came up, I strolled up to Entrance Cascade, which lies at the base of the gorge, just prior to the beginning of the trail proper.

Entrance Cascade, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Entrance Cascade, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Shortly after photographing the waterfall, the sun crested the eastern horizon…and shined directly on Entrance Cascade.  That was a problem.  But I wasn’t inside the gorge yet.  Surely that would be in shade, at least for an hour or two.

Well, not exactly.  As it turns out, a significant portion of the gorge runs east-west in direction.  As a result, a sizable percentage of the gorge lies in direct sun as soon as it comes up.  Portions of the gorge run more north-south in direction and are indeed shaded first thing in the morning.  Reluctantly, I scouted the portions of the park that were in sun and photographed the areas in shade.  I’d have to come back another time over the next couple of days to photograph the areas that were currently marred by sunlight.  At least I had the park to myself for the next couple of hours.

What I learned is that, to have the best opportunity to photograph Watkins Glen State Park, you want to:

  1. arrive first thing in the morning;
  2. choose a weekday rather than a weekend;
  3. pick a cloudy day.

The gorge trail is only open from (roughly) May 15 through the end of October.  Perhaps in autumn, more of the gorge would be in shade first thing in the morning, given the location of the rising sun, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.  Overcast is definitely preferable.

Cavern Cascade, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Cavern Cascade, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

I did find one benefit to being at the park on a sunny morning.  The area around Cavern Cascade was illuminated by reflected light, giving it a kind of glow that wouldn’t have been present on a cloudy day.

The Watkins Glen gorge is exquisite, and reminded me, at least a bit, of Maligne Canyon in Jasper National Park in Alberta.  I took mental notes regarding the parts of the gorge that were in the sun.  But when I found shaded spots, I basically went to town.

Quiet Pool, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Quiet Pool, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

The gorge was a generous mix of roaring waterfalls and rapids and tranquil pools and potholes.  A surprisingly large number of trees have found root amid the rocky walls and floors at Watkins Glen.

Rainbow Falls from the Gorge Trail, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Rainbow Falls from the Gorge Trail, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

The gorge trail itself was built by the Civil Conservation Corps in the 1930s.  The stone works blend in nicely with the surroundings, but the masonry of this impressive example of engineering often skirts the edge of Glen Creek.  Shortly after arriving I realized that, frequently, it was difficult bordering on impossible to exclude the hand of man from my compositions.  Once I arrived at that conclusion, I started trying to incorporate the walls and staircase elements of the trail into the frame.

Rainbow Falls from the Gorge Trail, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Rainbow Falls from the Gorge Trail, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

The Glen of Pools section of the gorge was the next shaded area along the trail and I photographed it both with wide angle and telephoto lenses.

Glen of Pools, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Glen of Pools, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Glen of Pools, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Glen of Pools, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Glen of Pools Intimate Black & White, Watkins Glen State ParkA, New York

Glen of Pools Intimate Black & White, Watkins Glen State ParkA, New York

Perhaps the most iconic scene at Watkins Glen incorporates Rainbow Falls, a thin cascade of water sourced by a tributary of Glen Creek, that runs down the canyon wall, overlaying the gorge trail.  I was able to photograph Rainbow Falls from along the trail, but I couldn’t shoot straight down the trail in the direction of Rainbow Falls, because the background was in open sun.  That perspective would have to wait for the follow-up visit.

Rainbow Falls from the Gorge Trail, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Rainbow Falls from the Gorge Trail, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Rainbow Falls from the Gorge Trail, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Rainbow Falls from the Gorge Trail, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Rainbow Falls, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Rainbow Falls, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

After having to skip over several interesting locations, all of which were in sun, I arrived at Spiral Gorge, a series of narrow, flowing cascades running through a narrow slot cut by Glen Creek, including Pluto Falls.

Pluto Falls and Spiral Gorge Black & White, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Pluto Falls and Spiral Gorge Black & White, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Spiral Gorge, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Spiral Gorge, Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Shortly after Spiral Gorge, I reached the Mile Bridge, marking the end of the most photogenic part of the gorge.  I walked another quarter mile or so on the now-flat trail, but the area was bathed in full sunlight and I eventually turned around and hiked out.  By this time, there was some foot traffic moving along the trail, but still not too much.  It was still relatively early in the morning but the light was only getting worse (and the crowds were getting larger), so I wrapped up and headed out.

It was mid-morning when I finished at Watkins Glen, and I was staring up at mostly sunny skies.  I decided to head back toward Ithaca, in Tompkins County, to scout at least some of the places I hadn’t had time to visit the previous day.  Since, on the day before, I’d only had time for a relatively brief visit to Robert H. Treman State Park, I had no shortage of places to explore.

On the drive from Schuyler County to Tompkins County I passed a very interesting abandoned barn.  I stopped by the side of the road and checked it out.  It was a highly photogenic structure.  There was a brief period where clouds covered the eastern sky, and after circling the property, found what I felt was a compelling perspective.  Crouched just off a state highway, I waited for a lull in the wind, and snapped the image you see below.

1883 Barn, Tompkins County, New York

1883 Barn, Tompkins County, New York

My first stop in Tompkins, late in the morning, was at Buttermilk Falls State Park, just a mile or so down the road from the entrance to Treman.  It was bald blue sky when I was there, but it gave me the opportunity to scout the location for a future visit.  At the time, I didn’t realize just how soon that future visit would be.

Buttermilk Falls is a small park, with a trail following Buttermilk Creek upstream, from Buttermilk Falls itself at the base, a short walk from the parking area, through a wooded gorge filled with waterfalls and rapids.  (Sound familiar?)  The gorge trail at Buttermilk Falls runs about a mile and a quarter and I walked it up and back–without my gear, given the light.  I could see immediately that it would be worth a return trip.

After strolling the trail, it was early afternoon.  I decided to scout Sweedler Preserve, a nature preserve on land owned by Cornell University.  It was less than two miles from Buttermilk Falls.  I had a bit of trouble finding the parking area, but finally did.  By the time I got there, I saw that some cloud banks had begun to flow into the area from the northwest, so before I hit the trail I pulled my gear from the trunk of the car.  I figured that there was a chance that I’d get some even light while I was at this location.

I had learned, from a guidebook, that there were a couple of waterfalls at Sweedler, as well as the potential to find some wildflowers.  It was an easy mile hike to the base of the first waterfall.  It was still sunny when I got there, but I sized it up and figured it was worth a shot or two in even light.  I then headed up an incredibly steep trail, which climbed almost straight up a hillside, to an overlook for the second waterfall.  That turned out to be a total waste of time and (considerable) effort.  The waterfall, visible only across a broad chasm, was barely photographable, and–given a paucity of water–wasn’t very interesting in any event.  I rather sullenly descended the trail without having removed the camera from my backpack.

By the time I reached the bottom of the trail the cloud banks I’d seen had completely covered the sun, so I returned to the glen containing the first waterfall I’d seen.  I produced photographs from several spots, including the image you see below.

Sweedler Preserve, Tompkins County, New York

Sweedler Preserve, Tompkins County, New York

Then I turned to the flower-strewn forest floor I’d passed on the way in to the preserve.  There was purple phlox seemingly everywhere.

Wildflower Forest, Sweedler Preserve, Tompkins County, New York

Wildflower Forest, Sweedler Preserve, Tompkins County, New York

While I was setting up to take the above image, it started to rain, which shocked me (there had been absolutely no rain in the forecast).  It only lasted for 30 seconds or so, but the wind did kick up for a couple of minutes and I had to wait that out so that I could produce an image with the flowers rendered sharp.

Even after the rain stopped, the sky was still mostly cloudy.  I decided that, as long as the opportunity for even light was in front of me, I’d head right back to Buttermilk Falls, which was only a few minutes away.  I returned to the now familiar parking lot and headed to the trailhead, this time with my gear in tow.

Buttermilk Falls lies at the base of the trail; it’s a long, mostly slide-style, waterfall.  As is the case with Enfield Glen at Treman, the splash pool below the falls is turned into a swimming pool in the summer.  I didn’t like any of the perspectives I saw of the falls from the bottom so I moved up the hillside a bit and found some more pleasing spots partway up the trail.

Buttermilk Falls, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Buttermilk Falls, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Buttermilk Falls, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Buttermilk Falls, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Buttermilk Falls, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Buttermilk Falls, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Above Buttermilk Falls, Buttermilk Creek slides through a gorge in a series of steps, waterfalls and cascades.  I slowly made my way to to the top, photographing at every turn, buttressed by the scouting session I’d conducted just a few hours earlier.  That previous trip served me well, as I’d taken the time to investigate several spots in the gorge to see if they were worth a trip with the camera.  Some were and some weren’t.  I now had my rubber boots on because I’d learned that it was worth descending into the creek bed at a number of locations along the way.

Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Buttermilk Creek, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Buttermilk Creek, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Buttermilk Creek, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Buttermilk Creek, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Buttermilk Falls State Park is a terrific shooting location.  While the park is fairly small, there are so many different spots worth exploring in the gorge it seems much larger than it actually is.  It serves as a “work the scene” kind of location–something I always appreciate.

Buttermilk Creek, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Buttermilk Creek, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

There are several fairly large waterfalls in the park–above Buttermilk Falls itself–and they all can be explored from a wide variety of different perspectives…especially if you’re wearing waterproof footing that rises above the ankle.

Waterfall, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Waterfall, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Watefall Black & White, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Watefall Black & White, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

During my time in the park, the sun popped out, briefly, on a few occasions, but there were enough clouds in the sky that it was never a long wait for the scenes I was photographing to be accessible in even light.

Waterfall, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Waterfall, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Watefall Black & White, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Watefall Black & White, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

As you approach the head of the gorge, it narrows, and the hiker/photographer is treated to an intimate series of cascades and deep, deep potholes.  While I was photographing in this area, I was occasionally interrupted by some–very polite–high school and college aged kids who were using some of these spots as swimming/diving holes.  This is against park policy (there was a sign near the base of the gorge stating that there was no swimming, other than in the swimming pool area at the base of Buttermilk Falls, during designated seasons and hours), but no one seemed to care very much.  These kids were jumping off the cliff sides into some of the deep potholes (some of which appeared to be well over 10 feet deep).  I got the impression that this sort of thing goes on all the time on warm days (like this one).  Anyway, when they were out of sight, I set up to photograph.

Buttermilk Creek, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Buttermilk Creek, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Buttermilk Creek, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Buttermilk Creek, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Buttermilk Creek Black & White, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Buttermilk Creek Black & White, Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

When I finished at Buttermilk Falls, it was early evening.  I decided to spend the last couple of hours of daylight photographing the areas of at Robert H. Treman State Park that I hadn’t been able to get to the previous evening.  It was less than a ten-minute drive to the upper parking area at Treman and, upon arriving there (it was nearly deserted), I gathered my things and headed up to the rim trail to photograph the one (very) large waterfall I’d been unable to reach the day before:  115-foot Lucifer Falls.

Lucifer Falls is the main attraction at Treman and it can be viewed, essentially, from two places:  an overlook on the rim trail and by descending a several hundred step staircase from the rim to river level below the falls.  (When the gorge trail is open it can also be viewed from a staircase that makes up part of that pathway, but as I had learned the previous day, the gorge trail had yet to open for the season.)

It’s about a mile on the rim trail from the parking lot to the overlook and I was there in no time.  There were a few people milling about the overlook when I got there, so I sized it up.  By standing on a bench I could almost incorporate the entire impressive drop, deep in the gorge below, though some foliage in the foreground made doing so problematic.  I decided, after a moment’s consideration, to descend into the gorge first, photograph Lucifer Falls from there, and then reascend to the rim and photograph the falls from the overlook before calling it a day.  I figured I had enough time to do that and still get back to the parking lot before it was completely dark.

Since it was all “downhill,” I was at creek level in no time; I was pleased to see that there was no one else down there.

It’s impossible to get too close to Lucifer Falls from the creek; you’re never closer than a few hundred feet away.  It’s probably just as well because the spray from the huge waterfall must be pretty overpowering.  Regardless, I spent some time poking along the water’s edge and ultimately switched back and forth between wide angle and telephoto lenses to capture Lucifer Falls from water level.

Lucifer Falls, Robert H. Treman State Park, New York

Lucifer Falls, Robert H. Treman State Park, New York

Lucifer Falls Intimate Black & White, Robert H. Treman State Park, New York

Lucifer Falls Intimate Black & White, Robert H. Treman State Park, New York

Lucifer Falls, Robert H. Treman State Park, New York

Lucifer Falls, Robert H. Treman State Park, New York

Lucifer Falls Intimate Black & White, Robert H. Treman State Park, New York

Lucifer Falls Intimate Black & White, Robert H. Treman State Park, New York

Lucifer Falls Intimate, Robert H. Treman State Park, New York

Lucifer Falls Intimate, Robert H. Treman State Park, New York

It was considerably more taxing to climb back up the stone staircase to the rim, but I managed it in fairly short order.  When I returned to the overlook, it was completely deserted–not surprising, since it was only about 20 minutes until sunset.  I climbed back up on the bench I’d used to scout the scene a bit earlier and produced the day’s final image.

Lucifer Falls, Robert H. Treman State Park, New York

Lucifer Falls, Robert H. Treman State Park, New York

I was back at the parking lot just as the sun was setting in what was, again, a cloudless blue sky.  The clouds that had allowed me to shoot (mostly) uninterrupted at Buttermilk Falls had drifted off as I, for the second consecutive day, made my way back to the motel at dusk.  There was, to my chagrin, to be more blue sky weather the next day…

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Responses

  1. Beautiful photo!

  2. Nice ‘silky’ water! Great shot!

  3. For a number of years I worked “on the road” in these areas, and had a lot of time to visit the various falls above. It is a spectacular region. I belive (if memory serves me correct,) there is a park roadway that ‘fords” the creek above Buttermilk Falls. sans bridge… which took me by surpirse at the time. Really NICE pictures. M 🙂

    • Thanks for the kind words.

      There isn’t anything that fords the creek above Buttermilk Falls itself, at least not now there isn’t. (Can’t speak to what may have been the case in the past.) At the very top of the gorge, dividing the park more or less in half, is King Rd., which crosses the creek via a bridge.

  4. Waterfalls galore! Great shots, Kerry. Your clarity, aperture, slow shutter all come together for terrific images.

    • Thanks very much, Jane!

  5. Those are some seriously gorgeous waterfalls. Your images appear to do them justice. No surprise there.

  6. Lovely shots of the waterfalls, some areas I’ve enjoyed exploring and taking a few snapshots of, but not with your skill, care, and determination.

    • Thanks very much!

  7. If someone had asked me to describe New York state, outside of Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs, I don’t know what I would have said, but it surely wouldn’t have included anything like this. I’m astonished by the beauty there, and ready to pack my bags and travel. There are so many extraordinary landscapes in this country; you’re showing me some I’ve never seen, and doing it with skill and grace.

    • Thanks!

      When it comes to natural beauty, New York may be the most underappreciated state in the U.S.; there are many, many absolutely marvelous areas to explore. This was the first time I’ve photographed there, but I’ve previously visited the area around Cooperstown on a couple of occasions and have driven the length of the state a number of times and photographing in the Adirondacks during fall color season is on my (hopelessly long) list of places to shoot.

  8. […] I returned to my motel at  the end of my second day in the Finger Lakes region, I met up with my friend Ward.  We’d photographed in West […]

  9. […] with me on the trail anyway.  What I found was reminiscent of Buttermilk Falls State Park, which I visited a few days earlier when I was in the Finger Lakes.  A water source–in this case, the appropriately named Stony […]


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