Ricketts Glen State Park has some of the most beautiful waterfalls in Pennsylvania. I had spent much of the summer traveling around many of the waterfall locations in the Finger Lakes in New York, and decided to travel around my own state to see how our selection of gushing wonders stacked up. I was not disappointed!
The journey begins at the very top of a very tall, forested hill. The top has some smaller waterfalls that bring their own brand of beauty. I spent some time on these, but I had a long hike ahead of me and I wanted to see the big ones. It didn’t take too long before they started to appear.
The Falls Trail can be quite treacherous sometimes. There isn’t much to separate the photographer from the steep cliff in many places. Carrying a tripod made my balance a bit lopsided as I edged my way down some of the trickier portions of the trail. But what awaited around each corner was another astounding sight. Ricketts Glen State Park boasts 22 named waterfalls, and each one is more dazzling than the last. After traveling for a couple of miles down the gorge, I came to a loop that started to ascend back up the other side…
…or so I thought! It turns out that the ascent has a completely new set of waterfalls! I had already been more than impressed by the sights I had witnessed coming down the Falls trail, and I couldn’t believe that a whole new set of photo opportunities awaited me on the return trip! But I must confess, I was out of shape and quite exhausted from my exertions. Also, time was ticking and I didn’t really want to get caught in a perilous and unfamiliar spot after dark. So I had to make haste back up to the parking lot. I really didn’t cover the park thoroughly, which makes another adventure here is a must! Although I would warn any travelers that caution and a good pair of hiking boots is advised (and possibly an aerobics class) it is definitely worth a little risk to see this splendid park and its wonders.
It had been quite awhile since I journeyed to the Audubon. Once a place I visited often, the Audubon took a backseat this summer as I explored the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, and Acadia National Park in Maine. But the time for journeying to distant lands was over for now, so it made sense to hit some places closer to home and see what new sights awaited me.
One of the best things about the Audubon is that it’s never the same. That log I captured a turtle on last time may be gone, but perhaps the water line has a revealed a rock to capture a brand new image. So I spent the beginning of my journey surveying the insects around me. There were many different kinds of dragonflies around, a monarch butterfly, and some odder insects that I wasn’t as familiar with. I was using my telephoto lens, which presents a much different view of small creatures than a macro lens might. The advantage, of course, is that I don’t have to get too close to my quarry to fire off a shot. After spending an hour photographing the macro world, I realized that I had barely left the entrance! Time to move on…
I moved along the path at just the right time! I looked over to my right, and couldn’t believe what I saw…a snake! I was a little closer than I wanted to be. I’m sure the feeling was mutual. And then I got even more of a surprise when I realized she wasn’t alone. I say ‘she’, because wriggling beside her were several baby snakes! Needless to say, that was a game changer for the situation. I wasn’t sure I wanted to try to pass through, and she didn’t want to leave the babies alone with me. But after staring each other down for several minutes, the snake decided she could head back into the brush, and the babies quickly followed. It was turning out to be quite an exciting day!
For those who know the layout of the Audubon Society grounds, it may or may not surprise you to know that I hadn’t even gotten away from the building yet! But I did want to start my expedition around Big Pond, so I forced my feet to keep moving. I tried my luck crossing the bridge over to Spatterdock Pond, but the high grass proved to hide the wildlife from my camera. I walked around the pond and over to the double-decker blind overlooking Big Pond. I usually see a deer or two in my travels, but no such luck on this trip.
Not so much as a squirrel posed for me as I made my way through the forest. But I still had high hopes for the back of the pond, and I wasn’t to be disappointed. I could hear the carp trying to leap out of the water, but they didn’t quite have the oomph that day to get a good shot. But soon enough, I spotted my target – two frogs were resting in the water on the far side of the path. If only they would let me get close enough for a good shot… So I crept slowly toward them, taking a picture every few steps in case they decided to flee. But they didn’t run and hide, and I was able to get a very nice closeup before moving on.
I thought I had seen most of what nature was offering that day, and I started to head back around the other side of the pond. I always make a point to stop at all of the blinds, and today was no different. I didn’t see much going on outside the last blind, but I did happen to see that there was a wasp nest in the corner of the roof. It was dark there, and it looked to me like there wasn’t any activity. Imagine my surprise when I put the pictures in Lightroom, and discovered not one, not two, but three wasps hanging from the bottom of the nest! You just never know what nature is going to throw your way sometimes.
So it turns out that I don’t need to travel to exotic places to get great shots. Sometimes they are right there in your own backyard. The Audubon is always an exciting place to visit, and I can’t wait to get back and see what is in store next!
It was a slow Sunday when my parents contacted me. They wanted to journey over to Benezette and see if the elk were around yet. For those who don’t know, the elk come out in the fall, during their mating season. It was early yet, but there was an off-chance we could get lucky. After all, Benezette is the elk mecca of Pennsylvania! So we decided to try our luck.
And luck out we did! The elk enjoy walking around town just as much as the forest, and we were treated to some bull sightings the moment we arrived. I wasn’t sure if I would get another chance to photograph a bull that day, so I decided to get a few shots in town. It’s very strange to observe an elk weaving between parked cars and wandering around on people’s porches and backyards. But in Benezette, that is just a typical day!
Of course, I like to get more natural-looking photos, so we headed up to the nature center next. There was some question whether or not it would even be open on Sunday, and they close the gate when the center is closed. But we were in luck, and the center was open. On the trail in front of the center, we didn’t see any elk. But we did see a fawn making its way through the forest. It stopped and posed for a few shots.
Next, we traveled to the giant field behind the nature center, and that’s where we found our quarry. Not just one elk, but a whole herd! There were many cows and small elk there. There was one little guy that was particularly vocal the entire time. It was very exciting, but the best was yet to come.
While I was busy trying to get some shots of mothers and babies, my parents excitedly informed me that there was a bull nearby! And he was a lot closer than I thought he would be – he was standing maybe 20 yards from the trail! He was quite a large one, and was a magnificent site to behold. I should point out here that I had my telephoto lens on the camera. Everyone else was trying to get closer to the bull, and I kept trying to back up! I did manage to get a few shots of him filling up the frame imposingly. I also got some neat shots of him interacting with the other elk. Very cool.
After that, we drove up to the top of the hill and were treated to a vivid sunset with an elk herd grazing in the foreground. All in all, it was quite a day. I’m sure we’ll be back again when the leaves start to change colors and the rutting season is in full swing.