Hanging Rock State Park’s Waterfalls and the “Wall of Water”

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As I continue to develop  my skills in photography, I have learned and accepted that I must look at rainy, gray days as opportunities…..good things. I am a sunny day hiker by habit, and enjoy being outdoors in good weather. The rainy days are usually spen…well, indoors. Because of the lighting challenges that sunny days present when photographing waterfalls, I have slowly, over time accepted the fact that I must get out on these gray days and take advantage….if I ever want to take better images.

This adventure begins on a Thursday afternoon in mid May. A strong cold front bringing very intense rains has finally arrived. It has been talked about by meteorologists for several days a now, as it moved across the country west to east.   2-3 inches if widespread rain, with flooding possible is all we have heard. They have been referring to this as the “Wall of Water”. It began raining here in the triad around 7 am, and it rained cats and dogs for hours while I was at work. Then, as my shift came to an end, the rain just stopped to an occasional sprinkle. I checked my iphone radar map, and sure enough , the massive, wide band of rain had moved to the east of us, heading for the coast. With only a small dot or two of green left in its wake, I saw opportunity. The chance to ride about 20 miles or so to Hanging Rock State Park and photograph the waterfalls there. There are 5 named waterfalls here and they are all fairly small, so I have been waiting for the chance to see them right after some very heavy rains.

My first stop was the Lower Cascades. This is a 35 foot cascade, and is usually considered by most, to be Hanging Rock’s most scenic waterfall. I have seen photos of this waterfall in very high water. Envisioning the intense water flowing through this small canyon, I was very excited as I left my car. It was dark and cloudy with threatening skies,  but dry for now. Surely my timing was right and the  photos would be spectacular. The trail was soggy, littered with small pools of leftover rain. The rain had only let up about an hour ago.  Well, once I made the short 0.3 mile hike to Lower Cascades, it was somewhat of a letdown for me. The water was flowing nice, but the water was not high. Why not? My guess can only be that either they did not receive nearly as much rain as I experienced in Winston-Salem, or these creeks just drain exceptionally fast. I think I will go with the first theory. To make matters worse, the sun was trying to come out, brightening the skies some.

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The photo above shows the skies beginning to brighten. It also gives a good look at how impressive the cliff wall is on the left side of this waterfall. It is a great place to go and hang out, just not the easiest to photograph. Some other shots from this day…

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The water was still low enough for me to cross the primitive rock bridge or just a path of piled rocks that somebody as arranged to get to the other side. This was not the day to get the intense water flow that I have seen from other photographers.  I was still happy to be there, but will have to try this scenario some other time.

After seeing this, I decided to skip Tory’s Falls, a very small waterfall on accessed from outside the main park. I decided to head into the main park now and see the other 3 waterfalls. Lighting conditions would have to be better as the entire top of the mountain was hidden in the clouds. My first…and what would end up being my only stop was at the large parking lot by the visitor center. Here the Mountains To Sea Trail leads to 2 small but beautiful waterfalls. The first one being Hidden Falls.

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After Hidden Falls, which is a very small 10 foot cascade, the MST heads downhill to the 25 Window Falls. Both of theses are on Indian Creek . It is definitely worth mentioning that mid May is Rhododendron bloom time in Hanging Rock State Park. The peak altitude here is about 2500 feet on Moores Knob. With the lower elevations, they bloom sooner here. They were gorgeous today.

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Once at Window Falls, there are some steep stairs to make your way down. I was able to get one shot…..before the bottom dropped out!

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For some reason, I really like this waterfall. There are multiple angles to view it from, both sides of the creek, including under it. Not today though, as the rain intensity picked up quickly. I immediately had to scramble back up the bank, get my camera gear back into its protective bag. Now it was time to decide whether to hang out under a nice, dry protective rock overhang, or make a run for it, over a half mile…all uphill.

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Taking a moment to view my weather app, The “Wall of Water” had reformed, this time directly over us. I could tell by the movement of the gigantic mass of rain, that staying and waiting this one out would keep me here deep into the night. So, it was time to make a run for it…or basically walk as fast as I could. By the time I got to my car, I was drenched, head to toe. The forecasters said that the rain was not over, I just didn’t believe them. I took a chance and Mother Nature won…lol. If I had it all to do again tomorrow, I’d be right back out there!!!

5 comments

  1. Chris, I like the recognition in your intro that dreary days can be your friend in photography. It is fair to say you have stepped up your skills considerably in the last six months. Bravo!

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