Behind the Photo: Frozen Bald River Falls at Tellico Plains
I have often heard about winter wonderlands in songs and from family members who live in the deep North, but last year I was able to experience this magic for myself here in the South.
I enjoy venturing out into foul weather when other photographers might choose to stay in. The preparation time and effort has always produced many rewards.
During the second week of January, a weeklong spell of subfreezing temperatures gripped the Southeast. Along with the cold came a soft blanket of snow that we Tennesseans do not often experience. Anxious to explore an area that friends had told me about, I bundled up against the 16-degree weather and began my journey.
I drove in the bitter cold for an hour and half to reach Tellico Plains, a small town at the edge of Cherokee National Forest in East Tennessee. A short drive out of town, I briefly rode on the Cherohala Skyway and then took a long, slow drive up a snow-covered narrow, two-lane Park Service road to my planned destination – Bald River Falls.
Once there, I made my way across the bridge and down the side of the hill to my favorite spot next to the water’s edge. I took in the sights and sounds of this majestic 100-foot, mostly frozen waterfall while preparing myself and my gear to photograph this spectacle.
When the sun rose through the trees, the magic began. Light traced through the tall pines along the creek bed, creating strong contrasts and light paths. The pines, silhouetted by the sun, sheltered the snow-covered falls from the ensuing harsh overhead light. I considered this Act 1 of a play without a script that would unfold naturally in front of me. I waited patiently for light to move to spots where I envisioned images to create while I braced against the elements.
The cold weather presented many challenges both personally and with my equipment. I had to limit the exposure of my hands on my camera dials to keep from getting frostbite. I kept the camera in my coat when not shooting to keep the battery warm and my camera’s digital systems functioning.
After a couple of hours photographing this waterfall and sharing a rare sight with only three other fellow photographers, I ventured further up the snow-covered road to the Baby Falls, which are only 8 feet tall but have a stair-step series of falls below them. The pools of water created seemed to almost seamlessly blend into the mountain side.
As I finished collecting memories of the frozen falls, the snow began to melt on the roadways, and the crowds began to arrive. This is a very popular spot since the falls are only a few feet away from the main bridge.
I finished my journey that day by driving back down to Tellico Plains and wandering through the handful of shops in the town square. The day was magical and might never happen again, but if it does, I will certainly return to collect more memories.