It’s been an intentional effort of mine to move away from the main falls when visiting Great Falls National Park in Northern Virginia’s Fairfax County. Growing up nearby, I had walked and mountain biked the park and its adjacent regional parks since I was a young boy. My father and I worked our mountain bikes over the trails from the Seneca tract upstream, through Riverbend and Great Falls, all the way past Difficult Run Stream Valley Park and onto the now titled, Fairfax Connector Trail, long before I ever pursued photography (all trails are now basically off-limits to mountain bikes except the FCT, sadly). However, since I’ve picked up a camera I seem to be drawn like a magnet to the falls–and from the looks of the internet sharing sites, as well as personal onsite experience, it appears that I’m not alone. Like a moth to a burning light, I would walk faithfully along the trails until I made it to the primary falls before taking out my camera and trying to get creative. Perhaps it was simply a case of being young in the photography game, and knowing that what I really needed more than anything else was a “good” (whatever that means at any given time) frame of the primary falls. That way, I could toss my name into the hat with everyone else and put a checkmark next to my to-do list of major local landmarks. After several years of doing just that, I began to amass a decent gallery of upstream and downstream compositions from Great Falls, and I became somewhat desensitized to the place, saying something to myself like, “nah, I don’t need to go there this morning because I already have a couple of great shots of the falls.” That sentiment was okay when I lived in the Carolinas and I only visited a couple times a year: those rare visits had to prioritize locations to maximize my personal goals. Having moved back to the Northern Virginia area, I can now visit Great Falls National Park at will. With a new business struggling to get off the ground, I can’t necessarily travel at will (at least not responsibly), leaving me with an abundance of time and a strong need for practice and exploration. For these reasons, I’ve somewhat rediscovered Great Falls National Park, and in the process, made a concerted effort to extend my creative efforts far beyond the obvious Great Falls and it’s three overlooks.
The River Trail (green blaze) is a mile and a half of moderate hiking (one way) from the main falls southeast along Mather Gorge to where it meets up with the Ridge Trail. Several spots along the trail bring you literally to the edge of Mather Gorge, an arrow-straight geologic feature of the fall line featuring rocky cliffs of twenty-five to seventy-five feet in height above the Potomac River. I’ve always really liked the view from an area just north of Sandy Landing (paved river access road). Here, the trail is pocked with evidence of a time when the river was much higher, and the views over the Potomac River are unimpeded to the nearby Maryland side where the Nature Conservancy maintains the renowned Billy Goat Trail on Bear Island. I set up multiple mornings at this particular spot, viewing southeast towards sunrise, hoping to capture color reflecting over the gorge and river. It was, however, a morning that I was not intending to shoot this location at all, when I found the conditions above. I always walk back to my vehicle the longest way possible–a personal and intentional effort to be more patient and observant when I’m out in the field (not to mention a decent exercise strategy!). On this morning, that meant walking the River Trail. When I passed through this section of trail I was surprised to see a blanket of light fog working down the Potomac River between the cliff walls of Mather Gorge, slowly flowing downstream like an extension of the water itself. Above, the sun was reflecting onto big, billowy white clouds. I quickly put together my setup and began interpreting a scene looking north, towards the mouth of Mather Gorge and Great Falls itself. The resultant is the photograph attached here. Hope you enjoy it. Have a great week folks!
Nikon D700; Nikkor 17-35mm f2.8, 17mm, f/16, 1/3 second, ISO 100, 0.6 GND
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