Friday, November 13, 2009

Unnamed Waterfall: NC 68, Guilford County

Falls at Guilford Mill

North Carolina has hundreds of waterfalls throughout the state, only about half of them are named, and a good many of them don't even exist unless there has been a lot of rain recently.  The waterfall featured here is unnamed as far as I'm aware and appears to be manmade.  I believe it serves as a dam for the Old Mill of Guilford which is located across the street.  For most of the year this has a steady flow of water, but nothing all that spectacular.  However, after a heavy rain it comes alive and really takes on a different that is worth including in this directory.

The waterfall is located on NC 68 in Guilford County, just north of Greensboro, NC.  It is on the West side of the road, and is on private property.  You can view it from the roadway, and there is no hike needed.  There is not much here for the photographer due to a lot of ground vegetation and trees which obstruct the view.  For those that wish to get closer, you will be trespassing, and I'm not so sure that you will be able to safely get closer anyway.  The brush is quite thick, and footing is very unstable.

Even though this is not all that great of a waterfall for photography purposes, it is nice to see as you are driving down the road.  It also makes for an interesting stop when you are visiting the mill across the street.  It is the water from this waterfall that powers the wheel for this still functioning grist mill.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

MP 305, Drainage Waterfall: Blue Ridge Parkway

Rocky Runoff

It's rare that I will include a waterfall such as this one in this directory.  It does not have a name, and is not listed as a waterfall in any documentation that I have found.  However, I think that under the right circumstances this is one that is worthy of a little attention....and I think that opinion is shared by several people that I saw slam on brakes as they came passed it.  You can find this small cascading waterfall right off of the Blue Ridge Parkway near the Linn Cove Viaduct.  The exact mile marker is 305, but the cascade is a little past it, but not beyond the intersection with Hwy 221.

While you will not be able to find this waterfall for most of the year, if the conditions are right with a lot of rainfall, you will be richly rewarded from driving past this falls.  You can see it from the road, and there is sufficient shoulder room to pull off of the Parkway so you can view it up close.  I would recommend pulling off of the road to avoid any rear end collisions.  There is no trail to get to this waterfall as it is maybe 20 feet from the roadway.

The one negative to this waterfall is that there is a drainage culvert at the base that collects the water from the waterfall, as well as drainage from the roadway.  This is a necessary evil and helps to keep the Parkway safe to travel on by redirecting the water that flows on and around it during the rain.

What makes this waterfall so interesting is that it is full of sediment and minerals from the rocky face of the mountain.  This introduces a wonderful brown tint to the water which really is an eye catcher.  There is very little interest in the base of this waterfall, so those that choose to photograph it might have a difficult time composing something other than a frame filling shot. That is ok though because there is a lot of visual interest just in the patterns of the water itself.

While this is not a named waterfall, and will likely not even be visible for much of the year, if you happen to be around the area of Rough Ridge and the Linn Cove Viaduct this is worth looking for.  There are many of these little falls sporadically placed along the Parkway, but this one is the best one that I have seen.  It does need lots of recent rains, and will likely only be active for a few days here and there.

Upper Creek Falls: Pisgah National Forest

Upper Creek Falls

The Pisgah National Forest is home to many waterfalls, named and unnamed.  There are some that are officially part of the national forest, but are credited with being in the Grandfather Mountain District.  The Upper Creek Falls is one of those waterfalls that falls under the Grandfather Mountain Ranger District.  I have finally started to explore these waterfalls based on the descriptions from Kevin Adams' Waterfalls of North Carolina.

You can find the waterfall actually quite easily.  Since most will be coming from the Blue Ridge Parkway I will describe it from here.  You will exit the Parkway at milepost 312 which will take you to NC 181.  You will head South for a distance of 5.6 miles and will look for a gravel drive on the left with a Pisgah National Forest sign at the entrance.  This will be right at mile marker 22.  The sign will say "Upper Creek Falls".  Follow the driveway to the gravel lot where you can park.  There are two different  trail heads from this parking lot which are labeled "Upper Falls" and "Lower Falls".  Most will want to take the trail to the North which will take you to the upper cascades and the main falls.  This is actually a loop trail so you will see the same sights no matter which side you choose to take.

At less than half a mile down a fairly easy trail you will come to the upper cascades, and the top of the main falls.  As of the time of this writing this is as far as I have gotten here due to really bad weather conditions.  I will add more later when I actually finish the hike.  The upper cascades, however, are well worth the trip just on their own.  It is an unnamed waterfall, and is just considered a part of the Upper Creek Falls.  It is not very tall, but there is a lot of white water action as the water spills down over the boulders.  There is a pretty good sized pool there that apparently is popular with swimmers and sunbathers in the summer months.  Kevin says that if you don't want to be around a lot of people, then you should go early in the morning or in the cooler months.

To continue down the trail you will need to pass through the water by either wading or rock hopping.  My choice would have been to rock hop, but on this first trip, it was raining and the rocks were very slick.  It just wasn't worth it to me to continue on this day.  Speaking of slick rocks, you can also see the top of the main falls from the upper cascades.  There are some flat rocks that look like you might be able to step on them, but due to the location and the steep drop, I would not recommend doing this.

An Autumn Rain

As you can see from the photo above, even the top of the falls is quite picturesque.  I'm looking forward to returning to actually see the falls from the base so I can really soak in what this waterfall has to offer.  According to Kevin, the Pisgah National Forest Map has this waterfall on their cover.  I believe it is a waterslide, but with a near vertical drop which might make for a very interesting sight.

As far as photography is concerned, I can't speak for the main falls yet, but there is an open canopy over everything which will make sky conditions very important.  I would recommend an overcast day in order to avoid exposure hot spots.  There could be compositions that could benefit from a nice blue sky, but I'm afraid that it would be very difficult to balance out the exposure without using some digital trickery such as HDR Photography.

Edit: 09-14-2018

I have been back to this waterfall once again and have seen better conditions than the first time out.  I did hike down to the bottom of the primary waterfall but found that it was rather nondescript as just a long water slide.  It was not worth the effort to hike down and back up again, plus it was very difficult to get a decent composition with the trees all around.  I will say that my supposition about the top of the falls being a great place to shoot is absolutely correct.  On the recent trek here, I was able to get a great shot of the section that I had first photographed in 2009, and found it to be an outstanding image.

Into the Gorge
For this shot, I had originally thought that digital trickery would be necessary but that wasn't needed at all.  I was able to get this shot with a circular polarizer and two different ND grads for a total of 5 stops of light reduction in the sky.  The clouds definitely helped the final exposure.  It can be done, and this is still one of my favorite aspects of this waterfall.

Friday, March 27, 2009

High Shoals Falls: South Mountains State Park

High Shoals Falls

South Mountains State Park is located in Connelly Springs, NC, just West of Hickory. This is a very large, and recently remodeled park here in NC. It includes elevations up to 3,000 feet, 40 miles of trails, activities such as camping, fishing, and even horseback riding. However, what brought me to the park was the 80 foot waterfall, known as High Shoals Falls. I had read about this waterfall in Kevin Adams' book North Carolina Waterfalls. While I was a little skeptical about the photographic potential of this waterfall, I knew that it was one that needed to be added to this directory.

Finding the park is easy enough, and complete directions can be found at the official website. I was able to locate the park with no problem following Kevin's directions. From I-40 (near Morganton), you will exit on Exit 105 which is NC 18. You will travel South on this road for approximately 10.7 miles where you will turn right onto Sugar Loaf Rd (SR 1913). You will stay on this road for about four miles until Sugar Loaf Rd ends at Old NC 18. Here you will turn left and continue on for about two and a half miles where you will turn right onto Ward Rd (SR 1901). After 1.3 miles you will come to a fork in the road just past the bridge over Jacob Fork. Take the right fork, which will lead you to the park's entrance after about a mile. The nice thing about this trip is that there are plenty of signs to point you in the right direction from I-40. You actually don't even need directions to get to this park as long as take the right exit from the highway.

Once in the park, you will pass the new visitor's center on the right. I would recommend that you stop and pick up a map of the park, although the trails are well marked. The map contains general information about South Mountains State Park, and provides plenty of information about what is available to you within the property. As you continue down the main road, you will pass camping areas, and equestrian areas. You will stay on the road until it ends in a circular parking lot. As you are locating a parking place, you will see that each of the trail heads are marked with what trails are accessed at those points, as well as distances for the hikes. At the time of this writing, I have only taken one trail, and that is the last trail head that you come to which is labeled High Shoals Falls Trail, 1.0 miles.

You will almost immediately notice that this trail is very well maintained. It is manicured, and has benches at various points. There are also wooden overlooks which can be used to view Jacob Fork River. There are plenty of displays set up to explain things like the difference between Mountain Laurel and Rhododendrons, and what Hemlock is. Like I said, this is a very nice trail, but it is a bit of a love/hate relationship. I personally enjoy trails that are left in their natural state so you don't see the impact of man on the environment. However, there have been many times that I have accidentally wondered off-trail because of the lack of maintenance. There are only a few tricky areas to this trail, and most of that is where you are going over rock, and there just isn't much that can be done to mark the trail.

The trail to the waterfall pretty much ends at a very steep staircase that will take a bit of effort to climb. Had it not been for the stairs at the end, this trail would have rated a moderate at worst difficulty rating. The stair climb, however, elevates this trail to strenuous...but it is only for a short time. Once at the mid point on the stairs, you are at the viewing level for the High Shoals Falls. Again the love/hate relationship pops up again. The observation deck is wonderfully constructed, and allows visitors to get close enough to this large waterfall to feel the spray. I imagine that this would be very refreshing to hikers after the climb. However, the observation deck makes it nearly impossible to photograph the waterfall without including at least the railing.
Jacob Fork River

While the main attraction is a bit of a disappointment to me as a photographer, the hike along the Jacob Fork more than makes the trip worth it. There are more cascades along this river than I have seen in most parks. If you are making the trip for the purpose of photography, don't feel guilty about spending some time working these areas. I think that you will find that there are many more possibilities for great images in the river than there are at the waterfall. To be fair, on this particular visit, it was starting to rain pretty heavily which forced me to call it a day before I would have normally. I might have missed a composition or two in the rush.

I will say this...I think that the best compositions are to be had beyond the overlook on several of the boulders near the base. I can see that it would be possible to get to these locations, but with the wet conditions from the rain, I just didn't feel comfortable attempting it. There have been photographers that have fallen to their deaths trying to get a good shot of this waterfall in the past. Honestly, while a very large and powerful waterfall, I don't think that this is a particularly pretty waterfall....definitely not worth getting hurt in order to photograph it. Kevin gives this waterfall a beauty rating, as well as a photo rating of 7. Maybe it was just the conditions on this day, but I would have rated it much lower.

I imagine that during the warmer months, this park is filled sun-up to sun-down. If you want to have a little peace and quiet to enjoy this waterfall, I would suggest going early in the morning, or in the off season. Even in the rain with 50 degree temperatures, I ran into a total of five other hikers which really surprised me. On a pretty day, I can just imagine how many people can be found on the trails.