02/25/16 Featured Arkansas Landscape Photography–Sunset Falls on Mt. Magazine aka Chris Kennedy Falls
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Taken with an Nikon D810 & 14-24 lens @ 14mm, F11 ISO 64 through 400 in a series of bracketed exposures, combined into a single photograph in Lightroom.
In Yosemite National Park, there is a famous spot where during the month of February you can catch the setting sun illuminating a slender waterfall. Once the angle of the sun moves past a certain point the light falls beyond the waterfall. The problem is there tends to be over 1000 people lined up to get the same shot, so it’s really become a common shot. Still a thrill to get, but 1000’s of copies floating around the internet and in various galleries.
By pure chance, one of my friends, Chris Kennedy found this place on Mt. Magazine. I am sure this creek has a name, but I felt it fair to give Chris title. I have seen thousands of waterfall shots taken in Arkansas, but I have never seen one that features the setting sun, both in the shot and illuminating the waterfall. I knew of a different spot a bit further down on Highway 9 and had mentioned this to Chris to check out. During that trip, he found a second series of waterfalls, just up the highway, and while he was photographing them, he realized that it was possible to catch the sunset on the waterfall. Chris sent me a shot the next day and I was transfixed! Chris mentioned to me in passing that the trip to the base of this waterfall was about like the hike down Big Devil’s creek from Hill Cemetery, a hike I had made many times, so I was not too worried about it. I had a lot to learn.
Highway 9 heads up the south side of Mt. Magazine out of Havana Arkansas. On the way up you will cross several small creeks that really just runoff from the summit of the mountain. The largest creek in the area Shoal, starts up on the other side of Magazine and runs to the north. As you wind up Hwy 9, you will come to a spot where two small creeks cross the highway and then come together. This spot has obviously been photographed many times before as there is a worn down trail to a vantage point. This creek now bounces down a very steep gorge over many more waterfalls, and disappears out of sight headed south. While walking along the highway, Chris spotted a higher waterfall, much further down the creek, and headed down the hillside to get a better view and in the process discovered this wonderful view.
The waterfall, is actually in 3 parts and in this photograph, you are viewing only the top part of the waterfall, which is also the highest single point. It’s about 20 to 25 feet tall from the very base. The creek then winds around the shale bluff and makes two more nice drops before emptying into a nice pool. The sun in January, is at just the right angle to shine on the base of the falls, providing a beautiful shot. Chris told me that you only have about 10 minutes to catch the light before the best part of it moves away from the falls.
I headed up to this spot with Dr. Todd Smith, (and will tell more of that story on my blog), and we were both able to get to the base of the falls just in time to catch this shot.
A few points of consideration:
- This waterfall has one of the most dangerous approaches I have ever attempted in Arkansas in over 40 year of hiking this state. You are hiking down a pitch of at least 55 degrees or more at times and it’s all loose rock
- About 1/2 of the way down you will hit a band of large loose rock that is full of pitfalls and places to break your ankle, there is an old crashed car laying in this part of the decent. This is a steep enough spot that if you lean too far backwards, you will fall.
- The last 20 feet to the base of the waterfall is along a 55 degree pitch, where if you slip, you will be headed straight down to the bottom 10 feet below. The area is just a muddy hillside and very slick
- When you are photographing the waterfall, you need an extremely wide angle lens, and a full frame sensor, (no APS-C cameras) if you want to get both the full waterfall and the setting sun. I used a 14mm lens
- Make sure to pack a series of filter and a tripod as this shot has to be bracketed.
- The trees above the waterfall are moving all the time due to the force of the water, so plan on shooting at least one frame at a faster ISO and shutter speed to stop the motion
- The hike out, well, lets just say it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s ten times worse than the hike down as the entire hillside is just loose rock, so you may climb 3 feet just to slide back 1.5 feet. The use of a rope on the last 50 feet would be strongly advised and something I plan to bring the next time I attempt this shot.
- You can try to come at the falls from a little bit further down the highway, but trust me the going is not any easier as the forest floor is just a bunch of broken rock and it make for very difficult footing.
- It’s very apparent that some blasting was done for the Highway above here and the rock just all fell away down the hillside and is very loose, footing is very tricky.
Overall this has to be one of the more unique places I have ever worked in Arkansas and have been to many. I would not attempt this hike alone, as there is just too much a risk, and I was glad to have Todd and Chris with me both times I headed down to the falls. This hike will give you just a bit more appreciation as to just how high Mt Magazine is and steep. The result is well worth the hike.