Posted by: kerryl29 | August 2, 2016

Finger Lakes: Clouds Return and there Was Much Rejoicing

I’ve talked at some length on this blog about the merits of overcast conditions when photographing creeks and waterfalls in wooded settings.  On this, my final full day in the Finger Lakes region, the forecast called for the first cloudy day since my second complete day at Ricketts Glen.  More accurately put, the forecast called for clouds in the morning and early afternoon, followed by rain, starting mid-afternoon.  It was time to make (photographic) hay while the sun wasn’t shining.

The previous day’s scouting session had convinced both Ward and myself that, having spent several hours photographing at Watkins Glen State Park, our remaining priorities were Cascadilla Gorge, in Ithaca, and Taughannock Falls State Park, about 10 miles to the north, in that order.  We dutifully got up very early to make the 30-odd-minute drive to the gorge so we’d arrive there approximately at first light.  Parking in the area around Cascadilla Gorge is limited–there is no lot, only street parking–and, on this Saturday morning, we also wanted to maximize time at the location during a part of the day when foot traffic would be at a minimum.  Cascadilla Gorge is a very popular spot, connecting, as it does, the Cornell campus with downtown Ithaca.

We executed our plan, found a parking spot only half a block from the western entrance to the gorge trail, donned our waterproof boots and hiked in.  The gorge was deserted when we arrived (not surprising, given that the clock had not yet struck 6 AM).  Having the advantage of the scouting session the day before, we knew precisely where we wanted to start photographing.

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

The most compelling part of Cascadilla Gorge includes a series of eight waterfalls, three of which appear to have “official” names, connected by countless rapids and covering a span of roughly a mile.  Cascadilla Creek drops approximately 400 feet over this mile-long stretch.  The trail is made of concrete to accommodate daily foot traffic, and it’s a simple matter in many spots to descend into the creek bed (which we did frequently).

Not far along on the trail there’s a spot that is, I think, the most magical in the gorge.  It contains a series of rapids in a glen where the creek bends around both sides of a small island.  Above the island, the creek makes a sharp turn, fed by a slide-style waterfall.

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Creek Intimate Black & White, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Creek Intimate Black & White, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

I spent a great deal of time at this particular location, tramping from one end of the creek bed to the other, clambering up and down the various tiers of rapids, investigating numerous angles, perspectives and shutter speeds.  There was just an occasional wisp of wind in the gorge at this early hour so, with care, focus stacking and/or long exposures were possible while still allowing a sharp rendering of the beautiful foliage.

Cascadilla Creek, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Creek, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Creek Swirls Black & White, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Creek Swirls Black & White, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Most of the photographs in this series were made from within the creek bed itself, but a significant minority were achieved from the concrete walkway.

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Creek, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Creek, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Creek, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Creek, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

On numerous occasions on this blog, I’ve described and discussed the notion of working the scene.  Briefly put, the concept involves investigating a location carefully, rather than simply settling for the “obvious shot.”  Cascadilla Gorge is one of the best “working the scene” locations I’ve ever visited.  This partly explains why Ward and I spent more than six hours on a one-mile trail.  (The even light and nearly windless conditions didn’t hurt matters, either.)

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Creek, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Creek, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge Black & White, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge Black & White, Tompkins County, New York

One of the notable things about Cascadilla Gorge is that it is utterly surrounded by development.  Consider the map of the gorge below.  (Click on the image of the map to view a much larger rendition.)

Cascadilla Gorge, Ithaca, New York

Cascadilla Gorge, Ithaca, New York

The part of the gorge covered in this post extends from the western entrance to the preserve located on Linn Street, at the left-hand edge of the map, to College Avenue, on the right-hand side.  As noted earlier, that covers almost exactly one mile.  All of the polygons that you see on the map represent buildings–private homes, commercial establishments, university structures, etc.  Note how close this development is to the gorge trail itself.

Given the proximity of development to the gorge, it’s truly remarkable just how secluded the crevasse feels.  The depth of the gorge and the continuous sing-song of the moving water work together to establish a sense of relative remoteness, choking out most of the sounds above the rim (particularly true early on a Saturday morning when there are relatively few external sounds to overcome).

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge Swirl Black & White, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge Swirl Black & White, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

The midway point of the trail, more or less, is marked by Stewart Falls, which flows under a handsome, foliage strewn stone bridge.

Stewart Falls, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Stewart Falls, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

As the hiker moves toward the head of the gorge, the waterfalls become larger, and the trail gets steeper, necessitating increasing instances of steps and staircases.  Lower Falls is the second of the named waterfalls a you hike upstream.

Lower Falls Intimate, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Lower Falls Intimate, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Lower Falls Intimate Black & White, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Lower Falls Intimate Black & White, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Lower Falls, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Lower Falls, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Lower Falls, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Lower Falls, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Lower Falls Intimate Black & White, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Lower Falls Intimate Black & White, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Finally, just as you reach a long, winding staircase that climbs up out of the gorge onto a pathway on the rim that leads to College Avenue, you arrive at Cascadilla Falls (a.k.a. Upper Falls).

Cascadilla Falls, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Falls, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Falls Black & White, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Falls Black & White, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Falls, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

Cascadilla Falls, Cascadilla Gorge, Tompkins County, New York

With that, we put a wrap on our shooting at Cascadilla.  It was around noon when we hiked back to the gorge trail’s western entrance.

The forecast was holding–it remained cloudy, with no signs of a break.  Our next stop was at Taughannock Falls State Park, about 10 miles north of Ithaca on the western side of Cayuga Lake.  There were two spots in the park that we wanted to hit–both of them providing a view of Taughannock Falls, the park’s eponymous main attraction.  There’s an upper viewing overlook–from the rim of the gorge that Taughannock Creek cuts as it flows into Cayuga Lake–and a lower viewing area, accessible via an easy one-mile (each way) out-and-back trail that follows the creek from the lower parking area.  We decided to start with the lower viewing area.

Taughannock Falls itself is a 215-foot straight drop of a waterfall, and a very impressive site.  Just after we hit the trail to the falls we came upon a much smaller–but still interesting–waterfall along Taughannock Creek and we stopped to make some images.

Taughannock Creek Waterfall, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Creek Waterfall, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Creek Waterfall Black & White, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Creek Waterfall Black & White, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

After a walk of perhaps 15 minutes, we got our first look at Taughannock Falls.  There were numerous spots from this point to the end of the official viewing area from which to photograph the falls and we investigated most of them, starting with the bridge over the creek.

Taughannock Falls, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Having taken in the full view of the falls from the lower viewpoint, I concentrated on telephoto shots and abstracts of the canyon walls.

Taughannock Falls Intimate, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls Intimate, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls Intimate Black & White, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls Intimate Black & White, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Cliff Abstract Black & White, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Cliff Abstract Black & White, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

We stopped at several spots along Taughannock Creek on the way back to the lower parking area.

Taughannock Creek Intimate, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Creek Intimate, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Creek, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Creek, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

At the final stop on the return trip, Ward graciously allowed me to use his tripod since I was having a terrible time getting mine to stabilize on the extremely slippery rock surface.  Ward had spiked feet for his tripod; that and a heavier design combined to make his support system better than mine in this instance, and it allowed me to obtain the image immediately below.

Taughannock Creek Intimate Black & White, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Creek Intimate Black & White, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Our next stop was the upper viewing area, which required a drive of a few miles.  When we reached the viewpoint, which we had scouted the previous day, we found a huge group of people, presumably from Ithaca, evidently taking pre-prom photos.  There were dozens of teenagers in formal dress, plus parents and at least one photographer.  This limited access to the overlook, but we were able to, mostly, photograph over their heads.  More problematic, while we were setting up, it started to rain.  Still, we persevered.

Taughannock Falls, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls Intimate, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls Intimate, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls Intimate Black & White, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

Taughannock Falls Intimate Black & White, Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

We wrapped at Taughannock at approximately 3:30, in a light rain.  We decided to head back in the direction of Watkins Glen, with the notion of photographing at Havana Glen, in the village of Montour Falls, weather permitting.  I had shot at Havana Glen on my first day in the region and had shown Ward the site the day before, during our extensive scouting session, my third day in the Finger Lakes.  He had been impressed, and rightly so.  I had wanted to do some shooting along McClure Creek below the main glen area, so while Ward moved inside the box canyon to focus on Eagle Cliff Falls, I donned my rubber boots and descended to the creek bed near the parking area.  This way, there was no concern about getting in one another’s way, since the creek bed isn’t visible from the box canyon.

McClure Creek, Havana Glen, Schuyler County, New York

McClure Creek, Havana Glen, Schuyler County, New York

The rain had stopped by the time we arrived, but it was still threatening.  I found many of the rocky areas on the creek bed extremely slippery so I very carefully made my way from spot to spot.

McClure Creek, Havana Glen, Schuyler County, New York

McClure Creek, Havana Glen, Schuyler County, New York

While I was photographing it started to rain again, so I found some cover–there’s quite a bit of it in Havana Glen and waited it out.  The rain ceased again after five minutes or so and I resumed photographing.

McClure Creek Cascades, Havana Glen, Schuyler County, New York

McClure Creek Cascades, Havana Glen, Schuyler County, New York

McClure Creek Waterfall Black & White, Havana Glen, Schuyler County, New York

McClure Creek Waterfall Black & White, Havana Glen, Schuyler County, New York

I climbed out of the creek bed and met Ward, who had finished inside the canyon, so we switched places.  I thought I’d nab a few more photographs of Eagle Cliff Falls, even though I’d photographed it pretty thoroughly the first time through, but as soon as I set up it started to rain again, and fairly hard.  Besides, there was a fairly stiff breeze blowing through the canyon which was a real hindrance, so I decided to call it a day and retreated back to the parking area.  Ward fought off the rain for a bit longer and then we called it quits.

It was pushing 7 PM by the time we returned to the motel, and it was still raining with no break in sight.  Ward had to head back to western Pennsylvania first thing the following morning so we said goodbye–it had been a good, though brief and intense–couple of days and I planned out the next day.  The forecast for the following morning was for cloudy skies and a chance of rain, so there would be no sunrise.  I decided that, after check out, I would head straight to my final destination on this trip:  Letchworth State Park.

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Responses

  1. What a great variety of timed exposures. Never seen those swirls shown this way.What an amazing place to see and shoot!

    • Thanks very much, Jane!

  2. Wonderful waterfall shots and certainly show ‘working the area’. Time does fly when you’re enjoying yourself, rain excepted 🙂

    • Thanks very much!

      A little bit of rain is no big deal, but a steady soak (or worse) is another matter entirely. 🙂

  3. So many wonderful photos, and so much good text. By the time I finished, I was feeling a little tired, myself — but in a good way.

    I finally have figured out that there are a good number of tips here for me to put to use for an autumn trip I’m planning. It involves a re-visit to the (purported) runestone site in Heavener, Oklahoma. My photos last visit weren’t at all good, partly because the stone is deep in a narrow ravine containing a lot of brush, rock, and waterfalls — if it’s been raining. It will be fun to really study these posts, and see what I can do on my next visit.

    • Thanks very much and I can’t tell you how pleased I am that you’re finding something actionable from these posts.

      I’ll be looking forward, down the road, to hearing how your Oklahoma trip goes.

  4. Kerry, it is hard to know what to say when each photo is more gorgeous than the previous one. I especially loved the multiple aspects of the Cascadilla Gorge (2 before the stone arch image).

    I used to spend time in Ithaca when I was performing with a composer there. He took me to see the Taughannock Falls once but it was in a drought season and there was no water at all – very disturbing to see. How wonderful to see your stunning photos with a generous fall of water!

    As usual, I learn so much from your descriptions of your process of perception, planning, and decision making while on a photography tour. I must admit that when I’m taking a photo, I have a little voice in my head asking “what would Kerry do?” – which of course spurs me to pay attention to detail and look for all the right things. Thank you as always for sharing your vision and photographic gifts.

    • Thanks very much, Lynn–you’re too kind. And I’m tickled that you’ve found some actionable nuggets from my long-winded posts.

      I think your experience at Taughannock is actually fairly common. They’re apparently having some drought-like conditions in western New York State this summer (according to an account I read this past week in a Rochester newspaper) and apparently the creek bed is bone dry and the falls themselves are represented by a mere trickle of water. I feel quite lucky to have experienced the site in much wetter conditions.

      I was truly impressed by the area around Ithaca, including–but not limited to–the two deep gorges that cut right through the town. Between the gorges, several university-owned preserves and the three state parks within minutes, there’s a remarkable amount of natural beauty within a few minutes of the Cornell campus.


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