I have painted 4 waterfalls between the last time I posted one and the one I painted yesterday afternoon in Union County. Two of them are on canvas and two on paper and for various reasons they just don’t seem quite done. I will write more about them and the process of finishing them when they are ready to post, but yesterday as I set out my goal was to not only paint a waterfall, but to have a finished piece before I hiked back out.
Blue Hole Falls is a small waterfall on the trail to High Shoals Falls. The trail head is off Hwy 17 about half way between Helen and Hiawasee in Union County. It is about an hour drive from my house but only 30 minutes from church so I packed a change of clothes and left right after service. It was a beautiful drive up the mountain and my car did great doing its first small ford. The parking area was incredibly full when I got there but I found a place of the side of the road, got changed and headed down the path. It is a fairly steep descent with a lot of switchbacks. It took about 20 minutes to get to Blue Hole Falls which I think it one of the most beautiful sites I have visited. It feels straight out of a fairy tale. There were only a couple of people there and I was tempted to sit right down and start painting, but I felt like I needed to see the other water fall first. It was less than 10 minutes to get down to High Shoals Falls. They are much taller and more dramatic, but there were tons of people climbing and wading around them. I took a few pictures and decided it would be a place best painted in the fall or winter when less people are interested in swimming.
When I got back to the Blue Hole spot there was only one other person there. A woman was sitting way over to one side reading so I chose the other side. I could not see her and I don’t think she could see me. I set up to start my picture and had about 15 minutes of bliss before the people started arriving. And they did not stop. Families with children from several different countries showed up to swim and enjoy the day. Then a small film crew filming what they keep referring to as “the montage” of young actors playing in the water. They did not ask me to move but they were fine with using every other bit of space.
The fairy tale mood could not withstand all my company, but I actually was still able to focus on my painting and try and create a picture that captured what the spot looked and felt like without the crowds. Several times people tried to speak to me about the painting and I did not even realize I was being addressed at first. I guess after 18 years of motherhood I am pretty good at tuning out background noise. At the end of two hours of painting I had a piece I was really quite pleased with. I think this is my favorite one, though it may be tied with the one of Becky Branch Falls. I think it is possible that having to focus on ignoring portions of my surroundings might be good for the painting. If I had been asked a month ago if I could enjoy painting surrounded by people as much as when I am by myself I would have said no way. However 3 of the last 4 sites I have painted have had crowds. The experience is different of course, and I do not get into the same deep contemplative state as when it is just me, the trees, and the falling water, but it is still delightful. I am so thankful to be able to keep having such joyful experiences.
Martin’s Creek Falls are on the same portion of the Bartram Trail as Becky Branch Falls, just about two miles further along. The trail is thin but well-maintained. The day was not especially hot compared to some of the ones we have been having lately, but there was plenty of humidity. Unlike a lot of the trails I have been exploring this one does not follow a creek or river. It was interesting to notice how different a walk feels without the sound of moving water as you go. The hike was not especially strenuous, but it had been over a month since my last hike. I had a little less breath and a lot more sweat when I reached the falls.
I did not see anyone as I walked in but when I got to the falls there were five or six young people arrayed all around it. I tried out a more distant vantage point but then noticed they were all putting on their shoes. I hovered long enough for them to set out on their way and then found a nice spot right at the foot of the falls to paint. The way the falls face made the light a bit strange. Clouds were moving in and out of the area (though luckily none of them dropped the threatened afternoon shower) and at times the rocks got quite dark and I had trouble picking out the details. This would not have been an issue if I had chosen a more centered composition, but as it is a lot of the intriguing rock formations I shifted the image to include are not really rendered. One other group of hikers passed by while I was painting. They had gone the full eight miles to Pinnacle Knob and were on their way back. I have not attempted a hike that long yet, but they said it was totally worth the effort. Once the weather cools off a bit I might give it a try.
Note: For quite some time I have wanted to visit Dick’s Creek Falls further down Warwoman Rd in Rabun County. However the road that leads to the trail head fords a creek. I would never have even thought to try that in my low slung little red car, but now that it has been replaced with a AWD vehicle I thought I might give it a try. I drove several miles down Sandy Ford road through beautiful countryside and farmland, but when I got to the crossing I could not bring myself to try it. I was out of cell phone range, by myself and I my new-to-me car had been mine less than a week. I could not take the risk of the water being deeper than expected or the current stronger. I turned around and went back to the Warwoman Dell parking area. I need to find an experienced off-roader to look at the creek and my car and advise me if I should attempt the crossing. If not maybe I can find someone with a more qualified vehicle to take me to the trailhead. After I went back to Clayton at the end of the day for a roof top drink and an art opening it felt like every other car I saw was a Wrangler or a lifted truck with crazy big tires.
Warwoman Dell is a nice little recreation area very close to downtown Clayton. There is easy free parking and a variety of trails. A simple little nature walk leads to the small waterfall I painted on 5/31. The Bartram Trail which “follows the approximate route of 18th-century naturalist William Bartram’s southern journey from March 1773 to January 1777” is over a 100 miles long, but only has to be followed about 1/2 a mile up a hill to see Becky Branch Falls.
The Bartram Trail can also be used to access Martin Creek Falls and Dick’s Creek Falls. They are next on my list…
Being able to paint three waterfalls (as well as do three tattoos) over the three day weekend was a real treat. I know I mention it almost every time I make a post, but there really isn’t anything I find more blissful than walking to a beautiful site and painting it.
The drive to Holcomb Creek Falls’ trailhead was over an hour and involved going up into North Carolina and then back down into Rabun County and a long descent down a gravel forest service road. I was worried that the waterfall I found was not going to be worth all the time it took to get to it, but boy was I wrong. The Holcomb Creek trail is short and narrow but it leads to two dramatically beautiful waterfalls.
The first one (Holcomb Creek Falls) is the bigger and grander of the two, but there was family exploring it when I first arrived so I continued on to Ammons Falls. It was just about half a mile from where I parked to the observation deck at the second waterfall. Unfortunately the deck had been damaged and taped off as dangerous. The part that was open was too narrow to sit on. I considered crossing the line and seeing if I could sit on the more stable side of the bench but I try not cross that line from brave to stupid. Instead after studying the structure and the area around it I decided to go back and go around and under the decking. I was able to find a comfortable perch on a rock with the undamaged walkway behind me as back support. I painted the falls in my normal way, got a nice visit from a little blue butterfly, and only saw the shoes of two other hikers the two hours I was painting there. When I finished I walked back down the other falls with the plan to just take a few pictures and then head home.
There was no one at the main falls when I got back there and on closer examination it was even grander than I had realized. I did not feel like I could leave without drawing it so I found a shady spot and decided to just do a drawing before I headed home. I used a china marker and only tried to capture the upper half I could see from where I sat. I was basically pleased with the drawing after about an hour, but without color I felt like a lot of the majesty of the scene was lost. Even though it was well into the afternoon and I had lost my shade I decided to go ahead and get the paints back out. I spent another hour or so turning the drawing into a painting but there is still a lot more china marker than usual.
I found capturing the areas where there was less water flowing on the rock especially difficult. I think I need to take the time to do some detail views of wet rock as well as foreground vegetation. Those seem to be the weakest parts of my paintings recently, but overall I was pleased with my results. Two other couples came by and looked at the falls for a few minutes while I was painting, but the majority of the time I had solitude. I was at the site for 5 and a half hours, with about 2 and a half hours of driving time so it was a very full day but a blissful one.
On Sunday I got up and went to the early service at church. For a couple of weeks I have been considering visiting the unfortunately named Raper Creek Falls in Batesville, but was concerned that Google Maps has it listed as permanently closed. It is a 45 minute drive from my house, but only 15 minutes from church so I decided to go ahead and try and visit it in the little window of time between church and heading to the tattoo shop. I am so glad I did. It is a brief drive down the beginning of a forest service road and then a super short (but steep) walk down to the falls. It is not big but it is breathtakingly beautiful. There is a big slab of rock that the water flows along before it falls into a scenic little pool with another large rock outcropping on the side. There was a father and two sons walking up the trail as I walked down but the rest of the time I had the muddy but otherwise perfect little site to myself. For people who find themselves in the Lake Burton/Batesville area I highly recommend taking a minute to check this place out. Just be very careful at the bottom because the mud is very slippery.
This was the quickest waterfall painting so far (just barely over an hour) and the first one with a horizontal rather than vertical format. I would like to return with more time and sit a little ways up the trail to try and capture the upper tier as well, but I am pleased with how much of the site’s essence I feel like I was able to capture in a short time. I arrived to the tattoo shop feeling so relaxed and content that I forgot to be nervous while tattooing. I think the three pieces I did were stronger because of it.
Hemlock Falls is on Moccasin Creek near Lake Burton in Rabun County, but with a Clarkesville address. It is an incredibly pretty walk but the falls were not especially spectacular. I think my enjoyment of them was diminished by how many people were out on the trail. I was spoiled by my winter hikes when I often did not see another person the whole time I was painting. That is obviously no longer going to be the case this spring and summer. I am going to have to get up much earlier.
Haven Falls is right past Glenn Ella Springs Inn. There is wide shoulder to the right of the gravel road and an old (logging?) road to the left. It is just barely over half a mile on an nondescript trail to get to this spot. The pictures I took do not fully capture how lovely this spot is. The cliff is almost a semi-circle of stacked looking rock with a free fall at the top then tiers. I could not find a dry place to sit far enough back to paint the whole scene at once so this is one I will have to return to as well.
This past weekend instead of hiking to one of the well-known waterfalls in the area I did something rather different. I used GPS coordinates to visit one that is literally “off the beaten path.” In my searching for more waterfalls to visit close to home I found Georgia Waterfalls which led me to Hiking the Appalachians and Beyond. Both are great sites that have way more information on trails and waterfalls in the area than any others I’d found. It had never occurred to me to look for unofficial trails to “secret” waterfalls. But once I read about them I became intrigued with the idea of setting out to find them and not being surrounded with the number of people that always seem to be at the Gorge or on popular trails like Panther Creek.
Tabor Falls was the perfect one to try first as it does not involve true bush-whacking and the trail head is only 4 miles from my house. Including both the drive and the hike I was at this gorgeous waterfall in less than 30 minutes! There was a trail to follow the whole way, but it was made up of a forest service road, an old logging road, and parts of several different small trails. Without the clear instructions and GPS coordinates provided on the second website I would have not found it. Other than a turkey hunter who was near the place I parked I had the entire place to myself. The trees are mainly new growth pines so lots of sky was visible most of the walk. The weather could not have been more perfect and the sky did not have a single cloud. I would have been pleased with my walk even if the waterfall had been less than spectacular, but that was not an issue.
Tabor Falls did not disappoint in any way. With all the rain we have been having there was plenty of water to dramatically fall over the 50 foot cliff. The moss growing on much of on the dark stone added to the mystical feel. There was a nice level dry spot for me to set up my supplies and the sun’s warmth and the cool mist counteracted each other nicely. I painted for a little over two hours, had a snack and then headed home. It is still amazing to me how close this waterfall is to my house. I think I will be returning many more times.
After weeks of rain it was great to get back out and walk to another waterfall this weekend. This walk was especially nice because my daughter and her dog joined me. Both of them enjoyed it as much as I did. Stonewall Falls Trail is mainly a mountain bikers’ trail, but my daughter’s cross country team ran it last fall. The drive to the trail head involves a rather long gravel road, but it is along the ridge so there are some views. The trail itself is broad and well maintained. It probably wouldn’t be to fun to walk with bikers whizzing by, but we had to ourselves except for one family of walkers who arrived at the falls after we had been there about an hour.
Those of you who who talk to me often may have heard me mention that time in the basement of the bank has a tendency to drag. I admit occasionally I wish I could be using those 40+ hours a week in a different way. However my friend Tony has helped me think of it from a different perspective. He said that as American artists we cannot expect to have patrons like some other countries still do. (Though I am not sure that there is anywhere today where patrons like the Medici, the Catholic Church or royal families are commissioning grand pieces.) He believes we should consider our day job as our patron. He has shifted his thinking so that instead of considering his non-art work as preventing him from creating, he appreciates that it makes his art possible. He also pointed out that this gives us total independence to focus on the art we are moved to make. No one is going to force us to paint ceilings when we would rather be carving marble. I have made a concentrated effort to adopt this view.
This shift in thinking is made easier when a bank holiday gives us a three day weekend. A full extra day to do with as I please is such a treat. There was no question in my mind that what I wanted to do with this most recent one was hike and and make art. Last week I checked the forecast over and over hoping and praying that it would stop calling for rain and clouds all weekend. The forecast never really improved, but luckily the weatherman was wrong. We got an absolutely gorgeous day on Saturday and Monday morning was clear and sunny as well. I was able to go back over to Lake Rabun and do the hike to Angel and Panther Falls and paint there twice.
The trail is an easy mile from the Lake Rabun Recreation Area to Panther Falls, then a more challenging half mile up to Angel Falls. It stays close to the water almost the whole way, and there are tons of rhododendron, which are difficult to paint, but lovely to look at. I painted the lower falls Saturday and the upper ones Monday. It is interesting that looking at both of them propped up next to each other back at my house they look very similar, but the experience of painting them was remarkably different.
On Saturday there was a fair amount of drama along the edges of the day. Two coworkers and I has planned the outing together, unfortunately one of them had a fender bender on the way and had to cancel. The other hit traffic, but Google maps and I did a much better job with navigation than the last time and I was able to get there in just over 30 minutes. I got there half an hour early and saw that the recreation area was closed. (for the winter?) I parked at the alternative trail head and as soon as I got out of my car I realized I had made a mistake. It has been raining in Georgia for weeks on end and I had placed my poor little red car in extremely soft ground. I tried to go ahead and move but the wheels just spun. I do not claim to know very much about cars but I do know that continued spinning will just make things worse. I walked down to the closed parking lot and filled my pockets with gravel. I brought it back and placed it behind the wheels and then decided to do my best Scarlet O’Hara impression and not to think about it until later. I did not even mention it to my coworker when she arrived with her cute little dog in tow. I had honestly forgotten about it by the time we crossed the first little foot bridge. Since I have gotten used to hiking by myself it took me a few minutes to remember how to be a considerate hiking companion, but we found our pace.
There was a family with children playing at the first falls when we got to them so so we just rested for a moment and then continued on up the trail. Not far above Panther Falls there are some shoals that are dramatic enough that I thought maybe they were the second water fall. We almost did not continue up the trail, but neither of us wanted to risk missing anything so we kept going. Angel Falls is much taller but there are so many rhododendrons that you cannot even see it all at once. There was a couple about half way up in what looked like a very picturesque spot. I tried what looked like might be a trail to the left of the falls but soon found that I was mistaken and slid myself back down to safety. A second couple then showed up and made their way up what looked like a trail on the right side of the trail. When they did not immediately come back down we decided to follow them. Because of the challenge of the little dog my friend turned around. I made it up a bit farther, pulling myself up on the larger rhodedendrens, when I came up across the second couple trying to turn around and head back down.
We carefully traded spots on the steep slippery slope and I continued climbing until I came to a beautiful little hidden cascade on a stream that runs parallel to the one feeding the large falls. It was a magical feeling spot, the light flickering through the leaves, the sound of the water. I let myself get a bit mesmerized and while moving closer to get another picture slipped and slid down the bank. I was not hurt, but it was sobering and I was reminded (again) I need to stick to well-established trails. I had carefully made my way about halfway back to the deck at the base of the falls when I realized my phone was no longer in my pocket. I climbed back to where I had slipped, found it waiting patiently in the leaves, and then did what was really just a controlled slide back down to the trail.
Walking back to Panther Falls and finding a spot to paint was uneventful. We sat there for about 1 1/2 hours. My friend was very patient and told me stories about what is going on in her life while I worked on my painting. Other hikers stopped by and a few checked out my painting and seemed to like. Several asked if I sold them. I did not have a good answer, but I am going to work on that. After a while the sun went behind the clouds, it started getting cold, and as soon as the painting was finished we packed up and hiked out. It was not until the parking lot was in sight that I remembered about my car and the mud. It will come as a surprise to no one that the amount of gravel that fits in my sweatshirt pockets was not enough for my tires to get traction, but luckily there was a wonderful group of people coming off the trail at the same time who helped me enormously. I was so grateful I did not have to spend the evening sitting there waiting for AAA to send a tow truck to rescue me.
Sunday rained just as much as the weather man had warned. I taught Sunday school and went to the tattoo shop, but Monday once the kids were off to school all I wanted to do was go back and paint the other waterfall. Having my coffee I decided that even if it was cloudy if I bundled up I would be fine, so I went, but the layers were not needed. The sun came out, the sky was clear and I parked in a very solid parking spot. I made great time to the very top of the trail where I experimented with a blissful little practice my friend Richard had talked to me about, then I painted for 3 full hours. There is an observation deck with a bench is very comfortable for someone whose back and shoulders might have been a bit sore from some sliding. The finished piece may not really show it, but I laid down layer after layer of different greens to try and get the feel for the rhododendrons on either side. I found the end result very satisfying.
I am so thankful to my patron day job and the forces behind the weather for such a delightful weekend.