A Tale of Two Taughannock Winters
If you live in the Pennsylvania, Upstate New York area and you are a photographer, you have probably spent some time shooting in many of wonderful state parks in the area. With that, many of us have become fair weather photographers. Whether it be to protect your equipment or your rear end from freezing, winters can put a damper on your shooting frequency. For me personally, I get stir crazy and have to get out no matter what.
In February of 2011, we had a few good snow storms and after one of them I decided to venture out to Taughannock State Park in Ulysses, New York. Taughannock is home to one of the largest single drop waterfalls east of the Rocky Mountains. While this waterfall is spectacular to see all year round, little did I know how extra special it would be in the winter. Shooting in cold, snowy, rainy, weather is tough but a lot of the times the shots will be unlike anything else you have ever shot.
Taughannock has two main trails. One is along the rim of the gorge and one is on the actual creek bed itself. The creek bed is the one to see, but there is an overlook on the rim walk that offers a beautiful view of the 215ft Cataract falls. Here are some shots from that overlook.
I had a fellow photographer who was stymied as to how I achieved this next shot. Apparently, all the times he had been, he could never see the creek above the falls. The trick is to not shoot from the overlook landing but from the top of the steps to the landing itself. Luckily, this day the landing was covered in ice and access was barred so this was the only vantage point I could shoot from. Sometimes, happy accidents happen. Here is a black and white, one of my favorites from the day.
A little bit of post processing to miniaturize this mammoth falls. If you are interested in this technique, please check out my article, There’s a Shrinking Ray in Your Camera.
After shooting from the outlook I decided to walk the creek bed trail to the base of the Cataract. The entire walk is only about a 1/4 of a mile and was an amazing winter wonderland. At first I was very reluctant to brave the 25 degree temperatures but just 100 yards into this park I completely forgot about the cold. The scenery was just stunning. In fact, I walked the entire trail in such amazement I didn’t even shoot a single frame until I got to the Cataract itself. Once I made it to the falls I was greeted by killer sight. Before me was a beautiful cascade with a 75 foot deep snow drift at it’s base.
Not long after I captured this shot I caught this couple bravely (and stupidly IMHO) climbing out on the drift to make a snow angel for a photo op.
Now there was about 6 inches of snow throughout the park, but the cataract opens up to a giant amphitheater that acts as a snow making machine. The water falls from 215ft up and creates a mist cloud, the swirling winds freeze the mist and literally create a localized snow storm. This builds and builds at the base of the cataract into a giant pile of snow that the waterfall then dives into.
Catching my fill of icy air, I decide to head back. This time I would stop along the way to snap some shots. The first is the creek and foot bridge that cross over to the lower cataract viewpoint.
A little further down the trail is a small plateau waterfall that is only about 3ft high yet still visually pleasing.
Taughannock is near Ithaca, New York and always draws creative folks of all kinds. From hoodoos to little gnome homes, you never know what you will see at Taughannock.
Last shot of the day is of another favorite spot of mine, the lower cascade.
All in all, it was cold but exhilarating and I could not wait to do it again next year.
Fast forward to February 2012. Winter of 2011-12 has been less than spectacular because of it being a La Niña winter. La Niña is causing a nearly snow-less winter in New York but I decided to tour the park anyway just to see what I could see. Even though there was no snow, there was ice and I was not to be disappointed. This time through, I would walk the creek bed and shoot along the way. Since there was no snow and little ice on the actual creek bed itself, I was able to get up close and personal with the creek itself.
It was about 28 degrees with a stiff wind blowing so I had to be careful not to get into the water too much. I was able to get out near the 3ft plateau cascade and get this down-low shot.
As I started to walk back and climb up the cascade I noticed this last vestige of autumn clinging on to the creek bed.
I continue to walk the creek bed to a spot with another small cascade and what looks to be an old bridge footing. I have often wondered how that footing got there. I can only imagine that it was moved by ice from the old footbridge crossing. Someday I will learn the story I am sure.
I walk a little further and come across an area that I have passed up several times before. This time I stop to investigate down the ravine and I am glad I did. A small evergreen tree overhangs the creek here accompanied by gentle cascade. Very peaceful here, I could have stayed all day.
This area has a lot of little scenes going on in a small area. Here are some amazing fungus covered roots from an old tree that are a challenge to photograph, but well worth it.
Finally, I make it out to the cataract. The flow is fairly swift so I have to keep my distance as not to end up with a water spotted lens. This day I shoot from just beyond the footbridge. Though not amassed with snow, ice still clings to the canyon walls created by the freezing mist in the air.
The park offers much more than waterfalls. Flora and rock formations are everywhere. Though there is a lack of much of the plant-life this time of year, the milder winter has given way to hearty mosses still thriving throughout the park.
High overhead on the canyon walls, run-off waterfalls have frozen solid into massive pieces of ice just waiting to tumble to the creek bed. If you do visit in the winter, be aware of these possible dangers.
Finally, I stop at my favorite spot. The Lower Cascade, this time from a vantage point that I have not shot from before.
Though there was a definite lack of the white stuff to turn the park into a “Winter Wonderland”, there was still another look to Taughannock that I have not seen before. I guess I put together this story to urge you to get out and explore your favorite haunts in the off-season. You will definitely come away with a different perspective, and some great shots to boot! Happy shooting!