Friday, August 16, 2013

Waterfalls of Catherine Valley

Catherine Creek is a normally gentle trout stream running northward from Horseheads, New York towards Watkins Glen where it feeds Seneca Lake. Along its twelve mile run, numerous waterfalls drop into the valley, some fairly common cascades and a notable few notable drops.

Near the village of Montour Falls, Havana Glen Creek drops over Eagle Cliff Falls at a town park.

I like this spot because it is almost always quiet during tourist season.  A few locals like to visit the swimming hole beneath the falls on  hot days. 

Now, I mention the quiet because my other favorite place is Watkins Glen State Park.  If I want it to be quiet, I'll be there at sunrise or before.  By 9 am, it is busy and sometimes difficult to work with a tripod.  Still, it is lovely.

On one summer morning, I arrived at 5:45 am to quickly stride up the gorge trail to Central Cascade.  It was in the early time called "civil daylight" before the sun breaks the horizon. By the time I reached my first destination, I found a beautiful soft light absent the harsh contrast of midday.

Some ten years ago, a flash flood roared down this gorge and swept the stone walls off the bridge spanning the waterfall.  That is the sort of event that formed this gorge.

However, my main objective that morning was another level up the gorge at Rainbow Falls.

Rainbow Falls is actually the thin, wispy stream that gracefully forms a curtain over the gorge trail.  It is arguably the iconic scene in the park and a real challenge to render in a fresh way.  The key challenge here is keeping the lens free of water drops, as there are more thin wisps of water right at the best location to photograph. It is lovely here in the early morning without the distractions that come with the volumes of visitors.

Just recently, I returned to Watkins Glen on a busy day. I got the last parking space, so you can  imagine how many were in the park. On this day, I wanted to test some new photographic techniques, so only went as far as the first major waterfall, Cavern Cascade.  It is so named because the gorge trail seen on the left passes directly under the most distant waterfall and then into a tunnel spiraling up to a view above the falls.

While I may prefer the quiet times there, I do meet some very nice people who share my love for waterfalls.  ( I usually encourage them to also visit Taughannock Falls on Cayuga Lake.)  On this day, I met two photographers from Colorado.

While showing the entirety of a gorge waterfall is necessary, there are also smaller scenes that capture the magic of falling water.  I found this midway up Cavern Cascade.

This log has been wedged between the walls of the gorge for at least eight years, placed there by one of the violent flash floods. I expect it to be there until another, even more violent torrent dislodges it.

As I walk the trails in the gorge, I nearly always reflect upon the work of hundreds of Civilian Conservation Corps men during the Great Depression. Without them, the wonders of this place would likely be inaccessible, hidden from us.  Building is a enduring thing, when the work you do outlives you.  I wonder if they thought their labor would be so important to future generations?

Paul Schmitt

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