Photographing the Poestenkill Gorge Falls

Last year, when I attended the Octoberfest festivities in Troy, I purchased a book as a benefit for the Rensselaer-Taconic Land Conservancy.  The book, “Natural Areas of Rensselaer County, New York – Second Edition,” featured several different walkways and hiking paths, as well as vintage photography of many of the original trails and buildings and structures throughout the area.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m sort of a Capital District local history aficionado.  And this book certainly feeds my local history addiction.

But among the articles on hiking trails and natural areas, I found photographs depicting these nature sites as they appeared over 100 years ago.  The Land Trust, in producing this book, picked through hundreds of vintage photographs to show what the natural areas looked like back when Troy was one of the top manufacturing cities in the Northeast.

Mount Ida Falls at Poestenkill Gorge, photo from the collection of Thomas Flynn
Mount Ida Falls at Poestenkill Gorge, photo from the collection of Thomas Flynn

One of the photos, on page 50 of the book, caught my eye.  It was a shot, attributed to the 1860’s, of the Mount Ida Falls at the Poestenkill Gorge.  And last summer, I tried to see if I could get a decent shot of the Mount Ida Falls with my new Nikon D700 camera.

First things first – I had to find where this waterfall was located.  My knowledge of Troy consists of the following – Get off I-787 at the Green Island exit, drive over the Green Island Bridge, turn left upon entering Troy, park in the lot adjacent to Revolution Hall, walk up River Street, eat at Brown’s or play trivia at Revolution Hall, get in my car, drive home.

Obviously I wouldn’t find this waterfall on River Street.

But the nature book actually gave some very distinct directions on how to arrive at a safe parking lot and walk down a short nature trail to the base of the Poestenkill Gorge Falls.

And on a sweltering July Saturday, I brought my camera gear, a tripod, and my brand new Quantaray shutter release, packed everything in my Pontiac 6000 and headed to Troy.

A short time later, I was hauling camera gear down a steep nature trail that was lined with old beer cans and broken bottles.  Ick.

Still, I got to the summit of the trail without any trouble, and looked up to see, clear as day, the roaring waterfalls plunging over the black shale rock into the pond below.

Poestenkill Gorge Falls, 2009, Photo by Chuck Miller
Mt. Ida Falls at Poestenkill Gorge, 2009, Photo by Chuck Miller

I went through several different lenses and exposures, but in the end, I think this photo was the best of the batch I took that day.

I should also note that I risked life and limb to get this photograph.  In order to get a good centered shot of the falls, I had to walk out onto several rock outcroppings at the edge of the pond.  Then, I had to find the most stable of the outcroppings, make sure there was enough room for both my tripod and my size 10 1/2 Converse Chuck Taylors, and then shoot away.  And, of course, this also required several trips back to the shore to switch lenses – tried with the wideangle, tried with the fisheye, tried with the telephoto, etc., etc.

I really like this photo; later that year, I entered it as one of my four entries in the Altamont Fair photo contest.  A framed copy of this photo now hangs in my home-based office; I chose to frame it with a grey-silver 10 x 13 wooden frame that I got on sale at Michael’s art store for a few bucks.

At some point, I may go through the rest of this Natural Areas of Rensselaer County book and try to replicate some of the other natural vistas with my camera.  There’s another waterfall I’d love to photograph – it’s actually part of a spillway at Oakwood Cemetery in Troy.  Only problem with photographing that waterfall – the base is at the bottom of a deep ravine, and I’m not sure that if I go down there – I might be able to come back up.

But we’ll see…