Posted by: kerryl29 | March 7, 2022

The Story Behind the Image: Jones Mill Run Dam

in 2010, I made an autumn photo trip that included a few days each in northern West Virginia, western Pennsylvania and northeast Ohio. The conditions for the trip were, overall, quite poor. Fall color across virtually the entire eastern half of North America was subpar that year, due to a prolonged summer drought. What color there was–and there wasn’t much–came early in 2010 and what I repeatedly encountered was mostly bare trees, dried leaves on the ground and very little water flowing through most creeks, streams and rivers. Some perennial waterfalls were nearly completely dry.

Among the places I visited on the trip was Laurel Hill State Park, not far from Somerset, Pennsylvania. Of all the locations I attended that fall, the conditions at Laurel Hill were probably the worst. At least 90% of the leaves were down by the time I got there. The leaves on the ground were mostly dried up and crunchy. As I meandered around the nearly empty park of almost 4000 acres, I could see the potential if the conditions were good but…they weren’t. It was a mostly cloudy, chilly day when I was there and I really had to push myself to find anything inspiring to photograph.

I had been told that there was an interesting dam in the park, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, and late in the afternoon, after a mostly unproductive day, I decided to go in search of it. I had a trail map and headed off, with the understanding that it was a bit more than a 1.5 mile one-way hike. The trail itself was buried under copious leaf fall in the dense hardwood forest and after awhile I realized that I must have gone well past a mile and a half. The dam was supposed to be accessed via a short spur from the main trail and I clearly had missed it amongst all the clutter. So, I doubled back, increasingly discouraged, as the light began to wane.

As I trudged back in the direction of the trailhead I was beginning to conclude that I would never even see this dam, let alone photograph it, when I thought I heard the sound of running water. I was making a lot of noise as I trampled through the thick carpet of dried leaves and might easily have missed the flowing water sounds on the way in but now I stopped and listened carefully. There was no question about it, somewhere off to my right, there was moving water. I headed in that direction, taking time to stop and listen and the watery sound grew louder, to the point where I could even hear it over my leaf-cushioned footfalls.

In a matter of a few minutes the dam came into view. A magnificent stony structure, resembling benches in an amphitheater, it was bathed in fallen leaves, with the water tumbling over the steps in faux waterfall fashion. At a wetter time of year–or in a wetter year, period–the falls undoubtedly would have flown over the entire dam, but with levels so low, the flowing water was almost entirely limited to a pair of channels near the middle of the construct, with little dribbles of moisture flowing here and there closer to the edges.

I just stood there for a few moments, admiring this enchanting scene and then, remembering the failing light, I got to work. Despite the fall color of the fallen leaves, the dark stone surface and the white water immediately made me think “black & white” and I converted the image to monochrome during post processing. It became one of my favorite images of the trip, in one of the most unlikely places. (To see a color rendition of this image, go here. A larger version of the black & white image below can be viewed here.)

Jones Mill Run Dam Black & White, Laurel Hill State Park, Pennsylvania


  1. Hi Kerry,
    Gorgeous black and white, thanks for sharing. I really like the uncropped version in your post.

    I’ve heard from others that color has been poor in the West Virginia country for a number of years now. I’ve read that summer drought doesn’t affect fall color, but I have a hard time believing that. With the very persistent droughts in many areas now, I do worry about having good fall color displays in places like the San Juans in Colorado (which I have yet to visit).

    • Thanks, Steve.

      Just FYI, the color version on my website I linked–it’s the exact same comp as the black & white included in the blog entry. It’s a Zenfolio “trick,” and one I’m not particularly fond of. When you’re taken directly to a specific image’s page, you’re seeing a square crop of that image. You have to click it again to see the a full-screen version. Give it a try:

      I, too, have a hard time believing that drought has no impact on fall color. If true, it’s certainly counterintuitive (and inconsistent with anecdotal experience).

Please feel free to comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: