Gorge Jewels

“J” trees and a charming weed

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Friday last Pam and I joined a “James Potorti Memorial Gorge Walk” through Buttermilk Falls State Park where we learned interesting facts connected to one of my most successful photographs, “Summer Dream: Buttermilk Falls.” This is the fifth and final post of this series.

Final Photograph of my “Creek Views” post — not waterfall in distance

Upper Buttermilk Gorge Trail

Below is a photograph of that distant waterfall. Taken using a tripod mounted Canon EOS 1DS Mark III body with the Canon lens EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM w/a neutral density filter (0.6 as I recall) it is from an early morning solo walk, July 2018.

This photograph is one of a series from that day. Here is a link to my waterfall photographs on Getty IStock, including the series captured on that July 2018 morning.

Click any photograph for a larger view.
Natural steps

J Tree

A characteristic of Finger Lakes Gorges is a constant infall from fragile sedimentary walls. Tree roots hold the slopes in place until the inevitable slippage. Tree trunks bear the mark, as you can see from tree to the right of the steps. Slippage moves the trunk horizontal, subsequent growth toward the sun curves the trunk. In extreme cases the tree forms the shape of an umbrella handle.

More examples of this slippage are seen on the right creek bank in the following photograph from my post of this series, “Creek Views.”

More curved trees

Impatiens capensis

Emerging from the gorge, soil accumulates on narrow shelves where this Jewelweed plant grows. Here we leave the gorge for now.

(Impatiens capensis) growing along the upper portion of the Buttermilk Sate Park Gorge Trail in early September, just after Labor Day. This photograph shows the plant growth pattern and the surrounding environment.
(Impatiens capensis) growing along the upper portion of the Buttermilk Sate Park Gorge Trail in early September, just after Labor Day. This photograph shows the plant growth pattern and the surrounding environment.

In Memorium

James Potorti was a native of Ithaca who perished at 52 years of age in New York City on September 11, 2001 were he worked on the 96th floor of 1 World Trade Center.

Click me for the first post, “Finger Lakes Water Chemistry.”
Copyright 2019, Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Creek Views

off the path

Friday last Pam and I joined a “James Potorti Memorial Gorge Walk” through Buttermilk Falls State Park where we learned interesting facts connected to one of my most successful photographs, “Summer Dream: Buttermilk Falls.” This is the fourth post of this series.

Starting Point

Buttermilk Falls State Park has two parks, upper and lower. Friday’s hike began at lower park. Using GoogleEarth I see the half mile trail along the lower gorge climbs 506 feet, 355 feet of this is ascended in 300 steps in the first quarter mile. Here is a view of the magnificent cascade that greets lower park visitors.

To my knowledge, nobody has ascended the creek bed at this point. The climb is not impossible, people with technical rock climbing skills and equipment can do it. We use the trail. Most often, Pam and I visit the upper park and walk down the gorge to the top of this ascent. Friday, we walk up with everyone else.

Creek Level Photographs

On a July morning 2018 I walked Buttermilk Creek from the scene of my “Summer Dream: Buttermilk Falls”, up the steps on the right of that photograph to where the water flows across a flat expanse of stone. The following three photographs from that walk were taken using a tripod mounted Canon EOS 1DS Mark III body with the Canon lens EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM w/a neutral density filter (0.6 as I recall).

Click any photograph for a larger view.
Natural steps

Low Flow

The “secret” behind my successful “Summer Dream: Buttermilk Falls” photograph is waiting for a seasonal low creek flow. For the same reason, this is a safe time to walk this part of the creek to capture the scene. See the previous post, “Walking Buttermilk Creek”, for the entry to this creek level walk. Attempting to walk the creek in other seasons can be fatal….there is a plaque along the trail memorializing an attempted rescue during a March flood where two people died: the rescued and the rescuer.

At high water the creek gouged a channel through the limestone creek bed

The most difficult passage was through the above photograph. I walked along that narrow, water level ledge using the tripod as a third leg. Here is a link to my waterfall photographs on Getty IStock, including the series captured on that July 2018 morning.

Time to Exit the Creek Bed

In Memorium

James Potorti was a native of Ithaca who perished at 52 years of age in New York City on September 11, 2001 were he worked on the 96th floor of 1 World Trade Center.

Click me for the first post, “Finger Lakes Water Chemistry.”
Copyright 2019, Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Walking Buttermilk Creek

getting our feet wet

Friday last Pam and I joined a “James Potorti Memorial Gorge Walk” through Buttermilk Falls State Park where we learned interesting facts connected to one of my most successful photographs, “Summer Dream: Buttermilk Falls.” This is the third post of this series.

On the path vs. in the creek

Friday’s hike began at the bottom, here we are at the start of the 400 foot climb, 300 steps, along cascading waterfalls.

Responsible Adults Staying on the path

Everyone stays on the path at this point, here is a video that demonstrates why.

Falls along the 300 step climb

Hiking with the grandchildren we prefer the upper park, walking along the road to a place where the creek flows over the pavement. They love taking off shoes and jumping in.

Click any photograph for a larger view.
Children wading Buttermilk Creek, take note of the shirt, “The Party Has Arrived.”

On a July morning 2018 I walked Buttermilk Creek from the scene of my “Summer Dream: Buttermilk Falls”, up the steps on the right of that photograph to where the water flows across a flat expanse of stone. This photograph from that walk was taken using a tripod mounted Canon EOS 1DS Mark III body with the Canon lens EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM w/a neutral density filter (0.6 as I recall).

Off the Path

Here is where the creek bed is flat enough to allow me to follow it when I wear waterproof boots. Note: it is against park rules to do this and the fines are steep, although some summer days it is a free-for-all of visitors in bathing suits, it looks like the beach. This session started shortly after sunrise, around 5:30 am at the best lighting, so there were no witnesses. When the sun shines over the gorge rim there are too many hot spots, the contrast between shadow and sunlight is too distracting.

In Memorium

Friday is the first visit I noticed this bronze water fountain in the lower park. The land for the park was an early 20th Century donation. The inscription text is in the photograph caption.

“This fountain is a token of gratitude to Robert and Laura Treman who led the founding of our rural parks.”

James Potorti was a native of Ithaca who perished at 52 years of age in New York City on September 11, 2001 were he worked on the 96th floor of 1 World Trade Center.

Click me for the first post, “Finger Lakes Water Chemistry.”
Copyright 2019, Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Ancient “Fracking”

a form revealed

Friday last Pam and I joined a “James Potorti Memorial Gorge Walk” through Buttermilk Falls State Park where we learned interesting facts connected to one of my most successful photographs, “Summer Dream: Buttermilk Falls.” This is the second post of this series.

Click me for “Summer Dream, Buttermilk Falls” in my Fine Art Gallery.

Many Right Angles, Why?

On a July morning 2018 I walked Buttermilk Creek from the scene of my “Summer Dream: Buttermilk Falls”, up the steps on the right of that photograph to where the water flows across a flat expanse of stone. This is a photograph of that expanse taken using a tripod mounted Canon EOS 1DS Mark III body with the Canon lens EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM w/a neutral density filter (0.6 as I recall).

Click photograph for a larger view.
“Summertime Cascades – 2018”

For a scene from nature there are many straight lines and, even, right angles in addition to the layering of the sedimentary rock from its origin as eroded material from the ancient Arcadia mountains collected on the floor of a warm shallow sea. We learned from Friday’s walking tour this sea was close to the equator at that time, riding on a tectonic plate that’s since drifted north. This North American Plate jostling with the others.

Beneath these rocks were older formations in which decomposed organic matter had transformed to methane gas. When the African plate and this pressed together, the stressed rocks weakened at right angles to the force, each stress point joining others in straight lines. The methane gas pressure from below forced the weak points to open a straight line fractures.

As the plates continued to move, orientation to the African plate transformed by ninety degrees and the two pressed together again. Methane gas pressure was present, causing straight line fractures at right angles to the others. Everywhere these rocks are exposed across the Finger Lakes region we see these right angle fractures.

In Memorium

James Potorti was a native of Ithaca who perished at 52 years of age in New York City on September 11, 2001 were he worked on the 96th floor of 1 World Trade Center.

Click me for the first post, “Finger Lakes Water Chemistry.”

Copyright 2019, Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Finger Lakes Water Chemistry

protection against acid rain

Friday last Pam and I joined a “James Potorti Memorial Gorge Walk” through Buttermilk Falls State Park where we learned interesting facts connected to one of my most successful photographs, “Summer Dream: Buttermilk Falls.”

Click me for “Summer Dream, Buttermilk Falls” in my Fine Art Gallery.

Low Flow

Presented here is the original photograph from July 2004 and an second version, produced July 2018. Both were produced at a low flow after many days without rainfall. The first learned fact is a significant water source for Buttermilk Creek and all the Finger Lakes gorge creeks, is ground water percolating through the sedimentary rocks cut through by the running water. The beautiful fall of water seen here is possible because the creeks flow through periods of drought, a lower flow creating these gentle cascades.

Click either photograph for a larger view.

“Summer Dream, Buttermilk Falls -2004”

pH

Secondly, because Finger Lakes sedimentary rock formed beneath warm, shallow seas 400 million years ago, water percolating trough the stone acquires soluble carbonate (calcium carbonate, Ca CO 3), an chemical imparting basic (as opposed to acidic) properties to the water. This characteristic buffers the water protecting us in the Finger Lakes from the effects of acid rain. When the pH of rainwater falling on the Finger Lakes is measured, it is acidic, falling below 5 on the scale. pH is a measure of reactive hydrogen in water, the more hydrogen the more acidic. Neutral pH is a 7. The water flowing in Buttermilk Creek is consistently around 8, in the basic side of the scale.


“Summer Dream, Buttermilk Falls – 2018”

James Potorti was a native of Ithaca who perished at 52 years of age in New York City on September 11, 2001 were he worked on the 96th floor of 1 World Trade Center.

First Water Trailhead

A desert garden with plans

….continued from the chapter “End of the Beginning”

First Water Trail Head

Notable Sonoran Desert Plants, all in the same frame. From the left, back row: staghorn cholla, ocotillo, saguaro. Front row: teddy bear cholla, yucca. I am not certain the greenery to the left of the yucca is brittle bush.

First Water trail head is the most used access point to the Superstition Wilderness, being the closest to Phoenix and its satellite cities and suburbs. For day hikers there are ample and interesting route choices as all foot trails of the west side terminate at First Water making for a variety of loops and incredible views. For horse people there are facilities to park huge trailers.

The ready access from Mesa, where my sister and husband had their home, was the primary reason I planned to finish my cross wilderness hike on the Dutchman Trail. Named for Jacob Waltz of the fabulous legend of the Lost Dutchman mine, the inspiration for The Searcher’s Superstition Wilderness expeditions and, ultimately, why he and I met and my change of plans.

On our ride over from Roosevelt he told of his difficulties building a home in Apache Junction, sleepless nights spent guarding building supplies from thieves. He looked forward to moving day.

This photographic record of five days in the wilderness would be much different without that meeting yet, there I was that afternoon with plenty of time for photography during the golden hours of late afternoon as I wandered the desert gardens until my sister arrived.

Wild Barley

The long distant ridge beyond the rugged near hills is the backbone of the famed “Superstition Mountain.” On the far right are hoodoos, appearing as so many teeth on a jaw. Gorgeous saguaros in the foreground.

Weavers Needle is the distant peak, 5.5 dry miles away in this view to the west / southwest.

I’ve always been partial to how the dense spines of cactus catch the evening light. These staghorn chollas are in front of the same ridge of the Superstition Mountain. A famous formation, “The Flatiron” is visible on the far right.

The road to the trail head, Service Road 78, winds through 2.6 miles of hills. Here is another overview of Sonoran desert life.

You might remember hedgehog cactus blossoms from my posting “A Dry Piece of Paradise”. The following are from the large hedgehog cactus in the foreground of the preceding photograph.

Future Plans

During the drive back with my sister, Diane, we talked of plans for returning to the Reavis Ranch together, as a backpack expedition. In coming days I met with The Searcher to explore possibilities for a horse expedition and, three years later, these plans came together for a trip kicked off from this same First Water trail head.

Hedgehog Cactus Blooms

Here is a gallery of the same photos. It is fun to flip back and forth with me disappearing from the scene.

Click me to visit Michael Stephen Wills Online Arizona Gallery.
Click me for the first post of this series.

Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

A Rocky End to a Perfect Day

A visit to a wilderness horse camp

….continued from the chapter “Superstition Galleries”

Nugget and Colorado had eaten their fill of the rich early spring grass of the apple orchard, The Searcher pulled together the pair for the return to Pine Creek. Perched on Colorado, the lead held by The Searcher, I listened as he shared survival facts remembered from Peter Bigfoot’s desert survival course. The Reavis Mountain School of Self Reliance, founded 1979, is along same Reavis Gap Trail (#117) we traversed. After descending to Pine Creek and up to Reavis Gap (where I first met The Searcher), it descends to meet Campaign Creek where the survival school is located.

He pointed out on the many flowering Century Plant stalks along the trail. “These are great to roast when young, just as the stalk starts to bud from the center, before it starts to lengthen.” By the time the stalk flowers, as in the following photograph, it is quite tough.

Agave flower spike against the dawn in the nameless canyon west of Two Bar Mountain, Superstition Wilderness, Arizona.

At the base of boulders, shaded from the sun, the ridgeline fern takes hold. Surviving on seasonal water seepage, it dries out during dry spells to later revive and reproduce via spores. As I recall, the dry or fresh form is useful as an analgesic.

An absolute necessity for bushwacking (walking off the path), a pair of rattlesnake proof boots were worn on every expedition. These rose to mid-calf with a layer of lexan, the same as used for bullet proof glass.

Swept from the Saddle

We passed the time in this way, me holding on to the saddle horn bouncing and shifting as Colorado negotiated the rough and steep path down to Pine Creek where the vegetation changed from very sparse to the thick growth you saw in my post “A Peaceful Day at Pine Creek”.
On the east side of Pine Creek a trail, unmarked on the maps, follows the creek bed uphill north towards Mound Mountain. In 50 feet or so we passed the side trail to my campsite, our destination was The Searcher’s campsite. I was not paying near enough attention to the surroundings when I looked up to see an Arizona Oak limb headed to my chest. With no time or space to negotiate the obstacle I was left to grab hold and hang on to be swept from the saddle. The branch held my bulk for, at most, a second before giving way.

In bending flexibly before breaking the live Oak wood and centuries of soil underneath the trees softened my fall enough so I was badly shaken and unhurt. Falling a foot or so in any direction would have resulted in serious injury or instant death. Colorado stopped, looking briefly back as I slowly came to my feet. After taking account and letting the circumstance wash over me, I got up and proceeded slowly while we both contemplated my miraculous survival.

Bear Shelter

I now took up the rear as in a few hundred yards the valley wall rose on both sides of the Creek to form a short, narrow pass. The walls fell away just as quickly, the valley floor leveled out and we came to The Searcher’s camp. The bear shelter stood out right away. This was a ten foot high teepee of 4 – 6 inch diameter tree trunks tied with rope, within was a hammock . The three foot wide opening left only one unprotected side while he slept, offering some protection from the all too common roaming bears, most commonly from September to November when mazanita fruit ripens.

Well stocked in every respect, for a wilderness camp. In the following years of roaming the wilderness the camps of other horse people were similar in this way: stoves, comfortable cots, radios, pots and pans all fit into panniers. As a noun pannier is seldom used in the singular because there are always two, one on each side of the horse for balance. I sat on the wide top of one enjoying a cold beer pulled from a bed of ice.

We discussed the benefits and drawback of horses for exploration. I required a gallon and a half of water daily and in the desert wilderness provided for storage of three days, 4 and a half gallons. At 8 pounds each, that is 36 pounds!! Starting out, my pack weighted 90 pounds with a camera and tripod.

There are benefits to having a mode of transport that thinks for itself and drawbacks. Each individual has its own personality and horses do try to get away with what they can. It is wise to limit your dependence on a horse until you know each other well. In retrospect, I was “out on a limb” riding Colorado modified by being led by someone the horse knew well.

It was soon time for me to head back to camp. We set the agenda for the next day, an early start for the hike out. Colorado was to be fully loaded so my riding was not an option, just as well. It was possible to lighten my pack to almost nothing and I looked forward to that.

I took some time before dinner to set up the tripod for a self portrait on my last full day in Pine Creek. The view is northeast from the Arizona Trail near my camp, the ridge overlooks Reavis Gap. I did a version of the view with an without me.

Click any photograph for a larger image.
Click me for the next post in this series, “End of the Beginning.”

Here is a gallery of the same photos. It is fun to flip back and forth with me disappearing from the scene.

Click me to visit Michael Stephen Wills Online Arizona Gallery.
Click me for the first post of this series.

Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills