Waterfall Wonders

ny-trip2014-037I am not sure when my fascination with waterfalls began, but it certainly has grown over the years as I have seen so many through my travels. The granddaddy of them all, Niagara Falls State Park in New York was established in 1885 and is a popular destination averaging over 28 million tourists annually. Niagara Falls are made up of three sets of waterfalls that are on the border between Canada and the United States. The Falls can be viewed by both the American and Canadian sides and each side offers a different perspective.

Any landscape is beautifully enhanced with the addition of a waterfall.  Just think, almost any park you visit one of the “key” features, and a photographers delight, is the viewing of a waterfall.  Whether they are big or small, the inherent beauty of them is always a pleasure to view, and the serenity that the flowing water provides is an added bonus.  Just think of all those little desk-top fountain to help you get your Zen on. I am more relaxed already.

Brandywine Falls, Cuyahoga Valley N.P.

Frequently, waterfalls are tucked away in the woods and require a hike to get to. Yet, that just enhances the excitement, because  as you walk….you can hear the water “woooshing”.  We must be getting closer….. When you get there it suddenly appears and WOW! Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Ohio) has a beautiful waterfall with excellent viewing platforms over the falls. Brandy wine Falls cascades over sandstone cliffs creating a dramatic  main waterfall, then several smaller ones. The photo opportunities are endless in this beautiful area of the park.

Many factors of course, determine the size, pathway and occurrence of waterfalls.  The source of the water, precipitation levels, topography and geological features all define the distribution of waterfalls. If you want to view waterfalls in your own area, it is encouraging to know that there are significant waterfalls in all 50 states except Delaware and North Dakota.  An interesting site to explore that shows the location, and names of American waterfalls is:http://geology.com/waterfalls The site has an overview of the United States, with major waterfalls tagged in each region.  You can select a specific state and find out the number of falls in that state. Then you can take it one step further and find out the name and locations of each waterfall.  Really fun site to poke around on and to plan you next “Falls watching” venture.

Another important consideration when hoping to view waterfalls at their peak, is the time of year.  For some locations, the season does not matter, but for others timing is everything and the melting snows and spring rains really delivers a showcase of stunning waterfalls.  For example, a few years ago I visited Starved Rock State Park in Illinois during the early part of October.  The foliage was wonderful at that time of year but alas, it had been a dry Fall and the waterfalls in the Park (they say there are 14 in the various canyons) were barely a dribble.  It was still a great trip and the hikes around the canyons were terrific, but I was disappointed in the emptiness of the canyons….they seemed too still without the sound of cascading waters.  I hope to go back sometime in the spring, when the Falls in the park would be more robust.  It really is a beautiful park.

Bridal Veil Falls, Alaska

Sometimes a walk in the woods is not required for viewing beautiful cascading waterfalls.  Depending on where you are, waterfalls are frequently spotted roadside, making the drive quite scenic. On the road to Valdez, Alaska there are several falls that can be seen along the drive and several turnouts are there to help you safely photograph them.  This particular collection of waterfalls in Alaska is not very large, but they are so incredibly scenic with the surrounding vegetation, rock formations and the beauty of Alaskan wildflowers. Depending on what time of year you are there, in the summer months the roadsides are filled with the Fireweed flower blossoms.  Fireweed is easily spotted by its bright pink or light purple flowers.  Here is a photo I took of Bridal Veil Falls along the Richardson Highway east of Valdez.  One little lone Fireweed in the foreground.



Weeping Wall @ Glacier National Park, Photo by I-Ting Chiang on flickr

In Glacier National Park, Montana there are several alpine waterfalls within the park that can be seen in several different “formats”.  Many are small little waterfalls in the streams surrounded by mountain pines. Others are larger and more dramatic coming off the face of a mountain. Yet, one of the most unusual waterfalls is seen on the main road that traverses thru the park: the “Going to the Sun Road.” On this  twisting and winding road you come upon the “Weeping Wall”.  Several cascading falls on the side of the wall as you pass by.  I can understand why they close this road in the winter, where it turns to torrents of ice. Even in the beauty of a summer day, the mountain road is a very winding and treacherous. That is why I was glad that my husband and I left the driving to the experts on a “Red Bus Tour” as seen in this photo.  It was a great tour that allowed us to relax, take pictures and enjoy the ride. However, I have to confess…there were a few curves and drop offs on the road where I just had to shut my eyes and hold my breath. We made it back alive to tell the tale.


Shoshone Falls-Idaho

Another joy in photographing waterfalls is the inherent possibility of capturing a beautiful rainbow highlighted within the picture.  Sometimes it is deliberate, sometimes like magic they appear in the frame. Well…lots of water, sun and….Voila…rainbows frequently appear.  Shoshone Falls, a stunning waterfall in Idaho, is frequently photographed and rainbows are  captured in those photos.  At 212 feet high, Shoshone Falls are actually higher than Niagara. Here is a photo with the beauty of the Shoshone Falls and a stunning rainbow framing them.

Anytime I am exploring a new area, I am on the look-out for the photo-ops of a stunning waterfall. So tell me, what is one of your favorite waterfalls? Can’t wait to visit another.

Put your traveling shoes on. JES

Put Your Traveling Shoes On

Why do I end every post with :”Put your traveling shoes on.  JES” ? Well, the last part is easy,  JES  are my initials: Julie Etta Smith. The  Put your traveling shoes on goes a little further than just a request for some sturdy footwear. It is always a good idea to wear comfortable shoes, a trek on a wooded trail would not be too easy with spiky sandals.hiking shoes Yet, I am using that phrase as more of a metaphor for preparing yourself, both mentally and physically, when starting out on a trip.  When you start to plan a trip, I like to encourage people to go beyond the usual hotel reservations, airline tickets and road map plan.   When you complete those first, it’s best to take it a step further and find out more about where you will be visiting.  What about the local history? Is there a favorite local cuisine? Are there products exclusive to that area of the country~ in my case: a fantastic wine, perhaps? Always good to be on the look-out for a memorable souvenir. It is so incredible to read articles and see photographs of an amazing feature or place and then view it with your own eyes. I remember seeing photos of the “freak of nature” prismatic springs at Yellowstone National Park and thinking to myself they must be photo-shopped. Nothing could look that strange. Yet, seeing the rainbow colors with my own eyes made it that much more spectacular. It is good to get some background on the local history and lore of an area.

On the same trip we made to Yellowstone I was in the back seat reading a local publication with a feature about a HUGE mansion that was being built in the late 1970’s.

Yellowstone-2012 188
Smith Mansion~on the road to Cody, Wyoming

The man building the Pagoda-inspired design was tragically killed when he fell from the highest floor.  Locals say that it is still haunted and sits atop the hill untouched since his death. AND to add a little more intrigue to this story, it is referred to as the Smith Mansion. I know Smith is a common name, but nevertheless this story just keeps getting better.   Do you have goose bumps yet? Well, as I was describing this story to my family, I looked up and there it was…just a short distance from the side of the road. “OH, MY GOD……THAT’S IT!”  I shrieked to my family as they wondered the cause of my alarm. Now that was creepy: just when I was reading about that local story it appeared before us. Other than a story of unique coincidence, if I had not read up on the local history we never would have known the story behind that interesting Pagoda on the hill.

It is truly amazing the things you can learn before a trip that will really make your trip more memorable. So take a trip to the library, peruse the internet, talk to friends and family that have been there and be sure to enjoy the ride. Put your traveling shoes on. JES


For the Love of Lighthouses

My family & friends frequently tease me about my love (er…obsession perhaps…) of Lighthouses. Yet, fellow admirers of Lighthouses will agree with me that these majestic structures provide an inspiration and tales of their colorful histories abound.  Also, it never ceases to amaze me that no two lighthouses are alike and they are as varied as the shorelines they beautify.

port washington lighthouse
Port Washington Lighthouse ~ Wisconsin

I believe Lighthouses have evolved from their historical roots as a guide to ships in turbulent waters and rugged, dangerous coastlines to landmarks of great historical significance and beauty. Not only do they serve to guide ships, but they have an air of spirituality about them to guide troubled souls in a world of darkness.  Their beacons shine in such a way that they provide an inspiration to all who view them.  How can one look upon a majestic lighthouse perched on a cliff or at the far end of a pier and not help but smile at its beauty.

Living in the Midwest, I feel honored that we have the greatest concentration of lighthouses anywhere in the world.  By virtue of the five great lakes, that provide hundreds of miles of coastline that need lighthouses to provide safe navigation.  In recent years, many of the lighthouses have not continued to operate and function as navigating tools, with the advent of more technologically advanced methods replacing them.  Yet, since many are steeped in history and tradition, there are efforts to restore and maintain them. For more information, an interesting site on preservation is: www.lighthousepreservation.org

It is interesting when visiting a community that is fortunate enough to have a lighthouse; the local residents utilize it as a focal point and a tool for orienting. “Oh, that cottage is located just south-east of the lighthouse”, one might say; makes things easier to pinpoint.  Also, many times a specific lighthouse is symbolic to the area in which it is found and has unique characteristics to only that lighthouse.  That is the exciting thing about lighthouses: each one is different and each one has their own special features and attributes. Not all are the tall beacons rising high on a rocky cliff.  Many are actually relatively small structures, but are situated on a jutting landscape so as to shine their light on the water.  It never ceases to amaze me the different sizes, shapes and features inherent with all the different lighthouses.

When viewing, and visiting a lighthouse I try to appreciate the craftsmanship of the actual building and of course the view from the top, if one is able to gain access to the tower. In addition to the physical beauty you are surrounded by, it is wondrous to imagine the history, local lore and stories therein.

Split Rock Lighthouse~Minnesota

When close to a lighthouse I can’t help but feel a sense of serenity and guidance, a connection between the creations of man and the turbulence of waters of Mother Nature; both the sea and the massive stretches of fresh water lakes. Here is one of my favorite iconic lighthouses in the Midwest: Split Rock Lighthouse on Lake Superior (Minnesota). It was built in 1910 and sits atop 127 foot cliff Now that is quite a cliff!


St. Joseph Lighthouse
St. Joseph Lighthouse ~ Michigan

Shown here is the St. Joseph Lighthouse on Lake Michigan. (St. Joseph, Michigan) Since it is situated across from Chicago on Lake Michigan, lighthouses were built at the St. Joseph location dating back to 1832, but the current structures were built in 1907. This is a lighthouse with such character and seems rather diminutive with it’s small “partner”building. The lighthouse itself is not that tall, but sits atop the pier as it juts out  approximately 1,000 feet out onto the turbulent waters of Lake Michigan.  I have walked all the way to the end of the pier to take in the view from the lighthouse.  Catwalks above the pier were built so that the lighthouse keepers could access the lights when the seas were rough and waved crashed over the pier. Walking on the pier on a sunny, summer day, I envisioned what it would have been like on the catwalks with snow and ice below you.

St.Joe Lighthouse,Frozen by Tom Gill
Winter dressing of the St. Joseph Lighthouse (photo by Tom Gill)

This particular lighthouse is frequently photographed when artfully depicted covered with snow and ice; as shown in the photo here.

I  was so charmed by this lovely little lighthouse, an artist friend of mine painted a beautiful oil for me that I have in my home. (Thanks Rebecca!)

So the next time you have an opportunity to visit a lighthouse, take the time to enjoy it’s unique design and think of its rich history. Ask a local about the history and the folktales of the lighthouse…I’ll bet there is a story to hear.

Put your traveling shoes on. JES