Before and After: Fun with Big Rocks

At the base of Whiteface Mountain in northern New York, on the road to Whiteface Mountain Ski Resort, just before you cross a bridge over the Ausable River and where your eyes widen to take in the size of the mountain close up … there is a large dirt and gravel parking lot. If you park your car and walk up the mountain road, you just might miss the forest opposite the lot: it’s hidden behind rows of birch trees and ferns that have gathered in the sunlight and grown right up to the left edge of the road.

After you step beyond the birch tree gateway and through the knee-high valley of ferns, your feet land in a blanket of soft needles discarded by pine trees that have been growing and shedding for decades. Your sense of hearing is instantly altered: the pine needles absorb and mute sound from the road and river nearby just as if you’d walked through a doorway and closed the door behind you. Your footsteps make no sound. Bird-call that you didn’t hear just a few minutes earlier is suddenly everywhere, accompanied by the rhythm of a breeze fluttering back and forth over the landscape.

Inside this forest, many of the birch trees that likely grew in before the pines took over have become degenerating deadfall, scattered across the forest floor or leaning against the rocks, and the rocks … well, they’re just enormous. You’d need a ladder to climb onto most of them; their surface textures range from smooth but finely pitted to rough like sandpaper to something that feels like it was spit from a volcano — but was more likely created by snow and ice and the slow roll of glaciers that molded the Adirondack Mountains. The rocks with flattened tops have given life to their own miniature forests, where ferns, small shrubs, and even tiny trees have taken root.

Some of the pine trees have grown so close to the rocks that the rock surface and the tree trunk are barely separated: you couldn’t fit your hand in the space between the two. That’s the case with this blue-green monster that blocks your view of the river, poised as it is just a few feet from the cliffs that dive about thirty feet almost straight down. It’s striking that rocks this large are so far above the river, that they remained on higher ground while the river carved and deepened its path.

You wonder about the tension between the rock and the tree if the rock shifts and as the tree continues to grow, then you walk around them both to the clifftop and views of the boulders in the river below. The first few steps feel pretty comfortable; the second ones get your legs a little rubbery as the speed of the water flow seems to increase; then you’re just glad you brought a zoom lens.

After a few shots, you reel the zoom back in, step back into the quiet of the forest, make your way back to the parking lot, and regret that you have to leave, because:

Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life. — John Muir


If you got this far, thanks for reading and taking a look! These photos are among the landscape images I’m reworking; more about that project here: Flickr Reboot. If you would like to see before and after versions of the images that I processed for this post (including two bonus boulders not shown above), select the first photo below to begin a slideshow.

Before and After: Swamp Things

There are two galleries below: the first includes a set of images from a woodland swamp in northern New York, and the second contains the before and after versions of the same images, showing the differences between the original and final versions processed with Lightroom and the Nik Collection.

For the first two images, I tried to emphasize the detail of the beaver cuts on the tree trunks, while still conveying the aged, worn smoothness of those cuts. My approach to the third image was to highlight the pair of trunks topped with moss by adding green saturation and increasing focus and lighting on the trunks to separate them from the background.

With the wider angle images of the swamp, I started by treating them as low-key photographs by significantly darkening the backgrounds. As you can probably imagine from looking at the before images in the second gallery, the gray in the backgrounds — once darkened — would give the scene a heavily shaded, foreboding appearance. Not a bad look overall, and I may still do a set like that. But then I thought it might be interesting to try something else: convert the images from scary-swamp to happy-swamp by intensifying the colors and creating high contrast between the water (and the thick, green algae on the water’s surface) and the twisted deadfall throughout the scenes. The result, I think, suggests a greater sense of standing at the edge of the swamp, with the eye tracking from the greens in each foreground to the depths of the swamp and the trees in the backgrounds. The intensified saturation and contrast also brings out many more colors present in the images that weren’t evident in the original photographs.

I included the last four images from the same area just because I liked them. What photographer can resist a colorful clump of fungus (with a big bug in the middle!), some bright red leaves, and an old Ford truck partly buried in the woods?

Select the first image below to begin a slideshow, then skip to the second gallery if you would like to compare the before and after images.

School Zone: One Room Schoolhouse in Northern New York

Once upon a time, I was driving my camera around in a rental car near Peru, New York, when I came across this bright red building, just off the roadside in a field all by itself. As you can see from the photos, storms were moving in, and I had just enough time to snap a dozen pictures before it started raining. It wasn’t until later that I realized I hadn’t made note of the building’s location (and the camera I had at the time didn’t have GPS capabilities), and on subsequent trips, I couldn’t find it. I assumed it was a one-room school, but didn’t know if the “School Zone” sign near the front door meant it it really was a one-room school, or someone had just nailed a sign to the wall of an old storage shed.

I recently learned that it is, indeed, a one-room school and was registered with the National Register of Historic Places as the Lyon Street School in 2013. The school is located at the intersection of Lyons Road and Rock Road, about five miles from Peru. The building is considered an example of late American Victorian architecture, with an estimated construction date of 1880 and an in-service date through the 1930s. The National Register of Historic Places Registration Form  (pdf) includes a great description of the school’s construction, has a couple of photos of the interior, and reveals a lot about how the building was used. It reads, in part:


The school is of light wood frame construction and is clad with wood clapboard siding attached with wire nails; the siding shows signs of weathering and age-related wear. The foundation is random laid field stone which is in fair condition…. 

The gabled roof with overhanging eaves is covered with corrugated metal which is rusted throughout and buckling in areas. The metal was laid over the remnants of an earlier wood shingle roof. An open, hip-roofed belfry sits on the ridge at the northern end; the bell is accounted for but not presently on site…. The six-horizontal-panel door has a transom light over it, and there is a round window in the gable field that has been boarded over. All openings are framed by flat trim which was also employed under the cornice and on the corner boards….

A bank of windows is centered on each side elevation of the building, directly under the eaves. Each bank consists of five windows; the three central units are square-shaped and have nine-pane fixed sash, while the outer windows are full size and are fitted with nine-over-nine double hung sash. The two lower sash on the east elevation have been damaged and replaced by larger sash which is ill fitting. A small coal hatch, now in very poor condition, is located on the west elevation, north of the windows and approximately five feet off the ground.

The interior of the school is largely given over to one large room, the classroom. Upon entering the building from the north facade, there is a small, roughly finished room to the right. This room was used to store coal for the stove and corresponds with the hatch on the west elevation…. To the left is a finished wall that makes up one side of a cloak room, which is accessed from the classroom. Continuing through the hall there is another framed entry that opens into the classroom. The walls and ceiling of the classroom and cloak room are finished in bead-board which has been painted over and partially stripped in areas. On the walls it runs vertically up to a chair rail that encircles the room at the height of the bottom of the larger windows; above that it runs horizontally. The window casings are formed of grooved millwork, with rosettes in the corners. At the south end of the classroom there are two voids, presumably where blackboards once hung….


In the same pdf document, there is also a short summary of the historical significance of one-room schools:

At the start of the 20th century there were over 200,000 one-room schools nationwide. Of those, it is likely that fewer than 10,000 presently remain. While some have been restored, many others exist in varying states of decay or alteration. The Lyon Street School is fortunately among those that remain largely intact and is a representative example of part of New York and American history that is rapidly fading.

The Lyon Street School is one of the few still standing in northern New York that is in good enough condition to allow for repairs. In The Peru Gazette, a local community newspaper, there are several articles describing ongoing reconstruction of the building, certainly enabled by its registration as a historic site, and some photos of the restoration of the belfry, the transom, and the front door.

My photos are nearly a decade old, hiding away in my archive folders, but I always wanted to do something with them and learn more about the building. The images below are largely unprocessed, though I did try to enhance some of the detail, especially detail that is reflected in the building’s description I quoted above. Maybe these pictures are now part of its history.

Select the first image to see larger versions in a slideshow; and, as always, thanks for reading and taking a look!

Ausable Chasm: “Grand Canyon of the Adirondacks”

From the History of Clinton and Franklin Counties, New York by Duane Hamilton Hurd, published in 1880, here is an elaborate, beautifully worded description of Ausable Chasm in Ausable, New York:

The town [of Ausable] boasts some of the finest natural scenery to be found in the world – one of the most sublime natural curiosities, the Ausable Chasm, the favorite resort of numerous tourists, being situated in its southeastern section. The Great Ausable River, in its impetuous course to [Lake Champlain], here breaks a passage through the solid Potsdam sandstone, towering many feet above its bed, and follows a rugged and irregular channel for a distance of nearly two miles. At several places the river is compressed to a width of less than 30 feet. The river plunges into the chasm in a succession of beautiful falls of from 60 to 80 feet in height, and struggles through the tortuous channel, foaming and tearing and whirling over its rocky bed as though bent on freeing itself from the thraldom of the gigantic cliffs which overhang it. By means of artificial stairways, galleries, and bridges, erected and owned by a party of Philadelphia gentlemen, and by boats, this stupendous work of nature may be traversed its entire length.

This freak of nature is but one of a system of rents in the earth’s surface that extend over the northern portion of the State…. The walls, that are now from 10 to 15 feet apart, were undoubtedly some time united and solid; projections on the one hand are often faced by corresponding depressions on the other; layers of rock on one side are duplicated on the other. Professor Emmons, State geologist, found here petrified specimens of the lowest or first orders of animal life, and ripple-marks made when the rock was in its plastic state; above these, in successive layers, towers 70 feet of solid rock.

Popular with photographers (see Ausable Chasm on Flickr and Ausable Chasm on SmugMug), the Chasm is also often featured in landscape painting, including the work of Adirondack artist Emmett Pine (see Emmett Pine: The Keeseville Ausable Chasm and Lake Champlain Railroad), and Hudson River School painter Benjamin Champney (see Benjamin Champney: Ausable Chasm).

I took these photos from the bridge over the Ausable River and from the surrounding property. Select any of the images below to begin a slideshow.

Thanks for reading! More soon!

Twisted Trees and Woodlands

The Point Au Roche State Park in northern New York contains a nature preserve with hiking trails, covering about five square miles along the shores of Lake Champlain. The hiking trails take you through distinct landscapes that change dramatically as you walk from the nature center entrance to the lake, and include a marshland (see Frogs on Logs, whose pictures were taken as the frogs soaked up some sunshine in the marsh);  areas full of shrubs and wild vines; a peaceful pine forest with a thick bed of discarded pine needles covering the forest floor; and shoreline trails where the effects of the wind blowing in from Lake Champlain have a unique twisting impact on the trees growing nearby as well as on the remnants of those that have fallen and broken.

I’ve always enjoyed exploring woodlands; there’s nothing quite like entering the shaded quiet of a few acres of pine trees as a hush falls around you. Sometimes I’ll walk the same trails both with and without a camera. Without a camera, I think I get a better sense of the scope and complexity of the woodlands. With it, I tend to look closely at the details: shapes, colors, textures, and contours that — for me — evoke a sense of what that space was like to stand in and observe.

I have several thousand pictures of this area. I pulled out a few, continued my Lightroom experiments and jazzed them up a bit. Enjoy!