Blackwater Falls State Park in Autumn

Over the past few months, I’ve been posting photos from my autumn trip to Blackwater State Park, in West Virginia, just three hours outside of Washington D.C.

The park is an absolute gem of natural beauty. It features dramatic mountains of sandstone, thrusted upwards during the creation of Pangea and slowly eroding over time. The sedimentary rock, visible throughout the park, is a result of shallow seas and swamplands that covered the area during the Paleozoic Era, about 250-500 million years ago. Adorning this rock during the Fall are the fiery colors of the many beech, maple, and oak trees, that turn all along the east coast during October and November.

It’s crazy to think that our landscape has changed so drastically over the annals of time. That grounds, gorges, and mountains, as sure and hearty as they look, did not exist years ago and will not last into the future. The slow and certain fleetingness of the state of the Earth is ever evident in landscapes such as this.

Anyways, I can’t think of a better Autumn paradise anywhere around the Washington, D.C. area. I also hope to return to the area before the Winter is over! Now, onto the shots!

My way out to Blackwater Falls was not an easy one. I decided to leave DC late at night to avoid any traffic, and be ready for sunrise. It didn’t quite work out that way, as I detailed in my previous blog post. That said, I still made it in one piece:

“Foggy Road to Blackwater Falls”

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Stars emerge on a moonlit scene of autumn trees and fog on the road to Blackwater Falls, West Virginia.
Canon 5dm2, Nikkor 14-24mm/2.8G, f/7.1, 25 sec, ISO 800

The next morning, I was up early and headed out to Lindy Point, which offers a stellar overlook into Blackwater Canyon. Lindy Point is not far off the trail, but in the twilight, I got a bit turned around. Luckily, I still made it to Lindy Point just after sunrise and was able to capture this shot with some still diffused light. The canyon stretches far into the distance with trees of every warm color of the Fall. Really a sight to behold:

“Lindy Point in Autumn”

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Peak fall color surrounds the sandstone structures that line the mountains of Blackwater Canyon in West Virginia.
Canon 5dm2, Nikkor 14-24mm/2.8G, 2 exposure manual blend at f/16, ISO 50

After soaking in the sweeping vista of Blackwater Canyon, I wanted to “dive” into the landscape and get a closer look. The first place on my agenda was Douglas Falls, a photogenic but, as I found later, a troubled natural site:

“Fragile Falls”

[fancy_images width=”640″ height=”512″][image title=”Fragile Falls” alt=”Douglas Falls West Virginia in Autumn”][/image]

Aqua-colored, but coal-polluted water turns rocks a bright, unnatural orange at Douglas Falls, in West Virginia.
Canon 5dm2, EF 17-40mm/4L, two exposures at f/16 for motion (2.5 sec at ISO 100 for the smoothness in the green pool, and 1/5 sec at ISO 1250 for the violence at the base), 10 stop ND filter.

Turns out the rocks of these falls are so vibrant only because of acid mine drainage, the result of deep mining and coal (more specifically, coke) production in the state. To combat the acidity added into the water (already naturally acidic and low in nutrients, but only brown because of pigments absorbed by falling leaves and other vegetation), limestone treatment is applied. This seems to have some limited success (though through my research I haven’t determined conclusively) in cleaning up other channels of water around the park, but not particularly on Douglas Falls.

It’s quite sobering to note that such a beautiful natural wonder has been marred by us resource-hungry humans. Do I blame us? How can I. I live in the built world we created for ourselves, constructed by morphed natural elements mined from once pristine wilderness. It seems to be our God-given right to use the tools, including our own minds, we’ve been gifted to advance our species. But it’s a delicate balance we should continue to strive for — such to not destroy and consume all that is around us, but coexist and renew where possible. This takes a degree of sacrifice that not everyone will be happy to make, but it is something we should consider as our awareness and understanding of the Universe, and the meaning to all of this, grows.

I enjoy digressing into subjects like this so I can’t fully apologize for the slight divergence. These thoughts fuel my passion for the art of landscape photography, so without them my photos would not exist!

I continued my dive into the elements, I ventured into Elakala Falls, probably the most famous section of the park. I probably had my most spiritual moment of my trip as I descended down the gorge and towards the waterfalls.

The early fall days meant that green mosses to continue to thrive in the rocky descent of Shay’s Run, the series of cascading rocks and waterfalls that end in the Blackwater River. While the mosses made scaling down the landscape slippery and a little challenging, they presented a great visual contrast agains the yellows, oranges, and reds of the autumn foliage.

Rainfall and winds from the previous night pushed many of the fall leaves from the trees down to the banks of the waterfall. The leaves piled up across the landscape in any area they could remain, while the rest were swept into the water in a series of swirling eddies. I took my time and soaked in the awe-inspiring scene for over an hour while I fired off shutter click after click. Never before had I seen gorgeous fall foliage contrasted with swirling and falling water during alternating periods of rainy mist and breaking sunlight. I hope this photograph reflects the power of the scene:

“Hidden Paradise”

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A climb down into the gorges of Blackwater Falls State Park in autumn reveals Elakala Falls: a gem of water, rock, and warm-colored foliage swirling in multiple eddies.
Canon 5dm2, Nikkor 14-24mm/2.8G & Canon EF 17-40mm/4L (with 10 stop ND filter).
3 exposures for focus and dynamic range

The next day, I ventured towards Pendleton Falls, on the other side of the park. On the way to the falls, I ventured into the nearby forest trail in search of some more intimate images of the fallen foliage.

This first shot was taken right below a recently wilted red maple tree, which had a series of starkly green ferns at its base. The red and green tones and interesting shapes were a visual feast… the only challenge was how to ‘tame the chaos’:

“Christmas in the Fall”

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Overnight rain makes maple trees drop heaps of wet, red fall-colored leaves upon stark green ferns and vegetation in Blackwater Falls of West Virginia.
Canon 5dm2, Canon 50mm/1.4,  f/14, 1/60 sec, ISO 1600, Polarizing filter

As I continued my trek through the woods and onto Pendleton, I found even more interesting leaves, including those that maintained intricate drops of moisture from the previous night’s rain:

“Autumn Droplets”

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Dew collects on the vibrant leaves that adorn the forest floors of Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia.
Canon 5dm2, Canon 100mm/2.8 Macro, 7 images focus stacked at f/20, .4 sec, ISO 50, Polarizing filter

I ventured out of the forest and now towards a smaller waterfall near Pendleton Falls. As I approached the waterfall, I noticed the delicacy of the sandstone upon which the water fell. Frail pieces of rock hung together, sometimes already cracked, as they have been slowly eroding because of the force of the river. As each fragile portion of rock slipped away and down the cascade, the subtle color of the stone is revealed. Another look into the incredible history of the geology of the park, each tiny layer of sandstone is evidence of slightly varied sediments compacting into rock at the bottom of an ancient, shallow sea. History always leaves traces for those who look for it, including the just recent history of a leaf falling from a nearby tree:

“Leave Traces”

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At Blackwater Falls State Park, a lone autumn leaf lays upon delicate ridges of sandstone, created by sediments from ancient, shallow seas and slowly revealed by the constant flow of the Blackwater River.
Canon 5dm2, Canon 50mm/1.4, f/11, handheld at 1/80 sec, ISO 2500, Polarizing filter

The last image of my fall trip to Blackwater Falls is of the small waterfall just below the last photo. I found it very intriguing to see the small layers of sandstone, so carefully revealed in the previous image, convert to large plates of stone which acted as large shelves for autumn-colored leaves to brilliantly display their colors. The geometry of the waterfall made the composition a bit difficult, as I tried to make the waterfall more of a footnote and the shelves of rock the real focus:

“Sandstone Cascade”

[fancy_images width=”640″ height=”512″][image title=”Sandstone Cascade” alt=”Pendleton Falls Autumn Color Blackwater Falls”][/image]

Water scales down stories of sandstone layers, filled with warm-colored leaves, at Blackwater Fallls State Park.
Canon 5dm2, Nikkor 14-24mm/2.8G, f/20, ISO 50, 3 images hand blended for dynamic range.

So concludes my images from Blackwater Falls this past Autumn. An amazing experience, and one I hope to have again in the near future.

What did you think of my trip? I always love to hear your thoughts 🙂 Comment below or share this link with someone you think would enjoy it!

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