I left off last time by describing the majority of my final day in New England, spent in various parts of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. It was late afternoon by the time I reached the area around Lower Falls and the Rocky Gorge Scenic Areas on the Kancamagus Highway, locations I’d visited on Day 6. As I was eastbound, I came to Rocky Gorge first and noted, without surprise, how much farther along the color was than it had been nine days earlier.
After I poked along the Swift River bank a bit I crossed the footbridge and revisited Falls Pond. There was a bit of breeze but at times the wind died down, allowing for the capture of reflections.
But I spent most of my time picking out tight “across the water” compositions with a telephoto lens, with an emphasis on color contrasts amid the predominant dark greens of the prevalent conifers surrounding the pond.
Lower Falls is only a couple of miles east of Rocky Gorge and I stopped there next. The area was extremely crowded–it was the Sunday of Columbus Day weekend–and it was getting colder as we neared the end of the day under still slate-gray skies. I noticed how tired I was when I got out of the car; I suppose that I shouldn’t have been surprised given that this was the 15th straight day of burning the candle at both ends. But I milled around the Lower Falls area and waited for people to move as I scoped out a few compositions–like the intimate below of submerged leaves–that I hoped were different than those I’d captured at the same location on Day 6.
I worked my way upstream, and produced an image or two featuring the colorful backdrop of maple and beech trees. I waited, with some annoyance, for someone to move off a rock in the mid-ground.
The fact that I was annoyed by someone standing on a rock admiring the view should have been a warning to me. When people–who have every bit as much right to be in a place as I do–are annoying me by being in my shot (without even knowing it; it’s not as though the person on the rock could have possibly known that he was in my field of view) it’s always a clear sign that I’m running out of gas and my judgment is becoming a bit fuzzy. So, a few moments later, when I decided to hop onto a small, slanted, wet rock about 50 yards farther upstream, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that it didn’t go well. In fact, in the cold light of failure afterward, I couldn’t believe that I even tried to leap on that rock because there was no way I could have done so without mishap; it was an impossibility. What a stupid thing to do. And, again, it demonstrated just how tired I was. I guess I was experiencing a bit of overconfidence borne from having successfully rock hopped at various creeks, streams, brooks and rivers over the past two weeks. And did I mention that I wasn’t thinking all that clearly?
In the greater scheme of things, it certainly could have been a whole lot worse. I was carrying only my tripod and my camera was slung around my neck. (My backpack was safely stored on shore, about 20 feet away.) And I didn’t even fall; nor was my equipment impacted in any way. I just slipped off the rock–it was inevitable–after trying to make the leap, and landed with one foot in the river, with water up to mid-calf, roughly speaking. So there was no injury. But my hiking boot filled up with water instantly…and it was cold. Very cold. And my sock was soaked.
And with that, I decided that the photo day was over. I sloshed back to the car and wrung out the wet sock. I had a change of footwear (which I put on), but I didn’t have a replacement pair of socks with me in the car. Time to go back to the hotel, I decided, get a change of clothes and call it a trip. There was only an hour or so of daylight left anyway and it was still cloudy. No loss. Besides, I’d already demonstrated that I was finished, psychologically. So, with the heater on to help obviate a wet, cold foot, I began the 20-plus minute drive back to North Conway.
But…and you knew there would be a “but”…on the way, I noticed in the rearview mirror a line of clearing on the western horizon. There just might be a sunset after all, I thought. And then again, there might not. But by the time I reached the junction with NH-16–where a left turn would take me back to North Conway, I could see that there might really be a decent shot at a sunset.
As I drove north on NH-16 I saw, on the other side of the road, a kind of unofficial pullout that looked like an interesting overlook facing west. There were already a bunch of people there watching the sun as it sunk toward the mountains. There was no way that I could cross the road to see for myself–too much traffic on this relatively high speed road–but I decided at this point, wet foot be damned, that I was going to try to head to an overlook I’d found north of North Conway that I’d identified a few days earlier as a possible sunset location. It was an “official” overlook; a paved pullout with a small roadside park (I later discovered that it’s called the Intervale Scenic Vista…and I subsequently discovered that the view isn’t all that phenomenal…but I didn’t know that at the time). So I drove into North Conway and hit the downtown area–probably two or three miles from my destination…and hit one of the worst traffic jams I’ve seen in a long time. I mean, the traffic was at a dead stop and went on for I don’t know how long; I could see at least a half-mile in front of me and there was a line of cars heading into oblivion. The jam was northbound only, but that was the direction I wanted to go. Meanwhile, the sky to the west was getting nicer and nicer…and after about five minutes of sitting I realized that I had no shot at getting to that overlook north of town before dark. So, I made a U-turn in the hopes of getting to the “unofficial” overlook I’d caught a glimpse of on the way into town. I had no idea if I’d get there in time and I had no idea if it was photo-worthy…but I knew that Plan A was cooked and I’d better implement a Plan B immediately, even if I was unsure of its potential.
So, I got back to the unofficial overlook–which was on my side of the road this time as I was now headed south–as quickly as possible. It probably took about five minutes though it seemed like 10-15. And when I arrived there were at least three times as many people there as I’d seen the first time–an indication that I might be on to something. Cars were clogging up the traffic lane. Seeing this, I parked in an empty spot along the side of the road at least 500 feet shy of where the “action” was and grabbed my equipment, doing my best to ignore my extremely wet, extremely cold foot.
When the scene came into view, I knew I’d made the right–make that the lucky–call. It was beautiful and the sky was just about set to explode into one of the ten or so nicest sunsets I’ve ever seen. The place was crawling with people, some of whom had their phones out trying to capture what was unfolding in front of them. There was one other photographer there with a tripod already set up. He saw me coming, looking for a place to set up, and in a moment of true magnanimity, waved me toward himself and created enough room for me to squeeze in with my gear. I thanked him profusely, got out my camera with the 24-70 mm lens attached and quickly went about metering the scene and fine tuning the composition.
I quickly decided that there were two ways to capture the scene. Colorful trees lay in the immediate foreground on a slope below us. The Sacco River made a wide bend in the mid-ground. And the White Mountains–fronted by a layer of mist–and an incredible sky lay in the background. The only question was whether to point the camera so the river was to the left-hand side of the composition or the right-hand side. I quickly decided to play with both options. Multiple exposures would be necessary–the dynamic range was off the charts–so I hastily established a five-frame/one-stop apart bracketing set and waited for the light. I captured a mess of sequences of both compositions, and I’ve included one of each below. Both essentially represent the sky at the height of its display. We were looking just about due west so the shot that had the river bend on the right-hand side–which caused me to face southwest–included a more dynamic sky than the other option which was facing either directly west or even west-by-northwest. I’m still not at all certain that I don’t like the second shot best, but it remains an open question. Regardless, it was by far the most impressive sunrise/sunset I’d seen on the entire trip. In fact, as I noted above, it was one of the better sunsets I’ve ever seen, anywhere.
Eventually–it took a long, long time–the sky show faded and it grew dark. Most of the crowd had left by that time and my benefactor (turned out he was from Madison, Wisconsin, just a couple of hours from the Chicago area) and I said goodbye (he was off to Maine the next morning) after chatting for a few minutes. My foot was freezing at this point, but I hardly cared. Had I ever gotten lucky. Without the stupid calamity with the rock at Lower Falls I probably wouldn’t have headed back early to North Conway and without the traffic jam I would never have returned to this spot. In fact, without having headed back early, I never would have even known that such a spot existed. I’d been on that stretch of road several times earlier but it was always in the pitch dark–either long before sunrise or long after sunset.
But sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. And this was one of those times because it provided a fitting, glorious end to an excellent trip.