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searching for fall color part three: shadow falls park

“there’s no time to be bored in a world as beautiful as this.”

- john ruskin


shadow falls…


one of the most mysterious falls in all of minnesota, it is shrouded deep in the forest away from all but the most able of explorers…


ok, it’s not that deeply shrouded. it’s actually located in the midst of the urban confines of st. paul. however, it is shrouded. it located within shadow falls park, near the university of st. thomas. but you’d never know there were falls located within the park. the park is a sort of u-shape that runs along a bluff and descends steeply into a gorge. while the upper part of the park is beautiful, down in the gorge is spectacular, at least in my opinion. it is down there that you will see the falls. here is a link to give you a little more information about shadow falls. be sure to click on image 1 in the link for some fun historical images to see.


there are a few different entrances that lead into the forested part of the park. some require a short steep descent before hitting a trail that will take you back to the top of the falls. to get down to the ground level of the falls requires continuing the steep descent for another bit. there is also a lovely stroll that takes you through to the top of the falls pretty much right in the middle of the sort of u-shape bend. my first time checking out this park a while back, i knew nothing about any of the trails leading to the top of the falls. I thought i just had to descend into the gorge all the way down. it was a lesson in navigating a steep incline. it was probably somewhere around 60 to 70% of an incline. i remember just kind of slipping and sliding most of the way down. i don’t remember how i found out but i realized there was an entry point that i mentioned earlier, the stroll to the top of the falls. i’ve since gone that way every time. if i want to tackle a steep descent, i’ll continue on from the top of the falls. no need to do it all the way from the up top of the park 😉.

there is always a lot going on at the top of the park. joggers, walkers, bikers, skateboarders, rollerbladers; there is no shortage of them. the roadway is a hub of activity as well with vehicles passing by at a pretty constant rate. but once you enter the inner sanctum of the park, things slow down. the pace is lovely. every time so far when i’m hiking down the path toward the falls, people are far and few. and i’m quite content with that. i don’t hear all the noise being up top, but i can see and feel the busyness of it up there. it feels like there is a defined purposefulness in demeanor. within the forest, i sense peace and calm; there is a feeling of unstructured rhythm, and just going with the flow. it is something that is not a prevalent part of our society anymore. it’s probably barely a quarter of a mile to the falls if that; yet it took me close to an hour to get there when i slowed down and just reveled in the scenery all around me during this fall season. it had been a few years since i last encountered the colorful foliage in this park. and it was too many years. i felt lifted in spirit and free to explore to my heart’s content. i could count on one hand the number of people i encountered while exploring this cornucopia of color all around me.


here is an image created while on my way to the falls. the rustic path has been worn through the years of people walking back and forth. the recent rains had muddied the path a bit. but to the right and left of it, gorgeous muted, yet still bright colors lined the path. the skies were gray; the tree canopy was pretty thick and both contributed to a softer feel in intensity and color throughout. just a reminder to click on each image to open it up in a separate window free from distractions if you'd like!



i continued down the path, walking alongside the shallow and gentle flow of shadow falls creek. the path is not maintained. i found myself sometimes walking a barely detectable straight downward slant; other times, the path turned and twisted upward to go around natural obstacles only to turn back and head downward back to walking alongside the creek again. leaves covering the gamut from bright to dull were strewn everywhere on the ground, both on and off the path. the path itself was a bit muddy and slippery from the recent rains. it is also rutted with stone and roots. in various spots, logs and loosely put together wood “bridges” made from downed limbs and branches were in place to help cross over the stream.

i finally arrived where the creek dropped off the bluff edge, soaring free of gravity’s restraint downward into large shallow pond. from there it continued its descent where it joins up with the mississippi river and begins the long journey to the gulf of mexico. it’s truly mind-boggling how something so small, over the course of a long time, transitions into a part of something much more massive in scope.

here i tried to create an image of what it looked like going over the edge without actually becoming part of the journey myself. it may not look like a long drop, but in actuality, it is roughly 20 feet downward once you go over the lip of the bluff. in other words, serious injury can be had as the landing is all rock, pebbles and limbs in the pond area. i like adventure but i also like to come out in one piece as well. i’m no old timer stunt person though i don’t doubt you could double dog dare someone to do it and they will. you simply cannot back down from a double dog dare!! (watch “the christmas story” if you have no clue what that means. it should be a required watch for the christmas season anyway 😉)


what was i saying before i got off onto gravity and drop offs? oh yeah…here is an image i created to give a perspective of what it might look like. it didn’t seem too safe to get any closer although my wife would probably faint if she saw me where i was. sshhh…don’t tell her…oh wait, she reads my blogs…at any rate, i made a couple of images and then blended them. this allowed me to have the foreground blurred, the middle ground a bit sharper in the center just before and at the lip of the bluff and then a sharp image of the ground below. i personally like the flow of transition from blurry and congruous in tones to sharp and contrasting with light and shadow as well as dull and bright tones or colors.



after creating this image, i continued on to the right as you can choose to go right or left around the bluff and falls. if you go right, you can also take one of the steep descents that gets you down to the falls. i chose not to do it that day though, of course, now i wished i had. it would have been a muddy, slippery and haphazard hike down but the rewards could have been great. alas, i did not. another day and for another blog!


i hiked under a dense canopy of trees and eventually came out upon a bluff that opened to the skies upward and overlooked the mississippi river. it was quite the expansive view looking both ways up and down the river. it was also extremely mucky grounds i was on due to the recent rains. this wasn’t just mud. this was sticky gooey mud, pale in color like concrete. with each lift of my boot walking around, i couldn’t hear the sucking noise but i could feel the release of the grip on my boot. had i worn loose boots or even sneakers, they would have been entrenched in the mud and only my foot would have come up! it was that sticky!

while i was enjoying the view of the mississippi river, the ravine and considering what might be a good image to create, a couple ventured down from the top of the park at one of the entrances that was steep but still doable to pick up a trail that continued on from where i was standing. i briefly entertained thoughts of not saying anything and seeing if they would come down to where i was. i thought it might be funny to see how they fared in their sneakers 😂. but i thought the better of it and suggested they might not want to come down to where i was due to the carnivorous nature of the mud. surely hundreds if not thousands of shoes, after recent rains, have been buried in the upper midwest version of the “la brea tar pits”!


after they moved on, i turned back to look across the ravine with my boots “popping” out of the mud as i turned. a scene came into view that grabbed my attention. straight across the ravine was a path that seemed to come over a rise into view and continued until it stopped at the edge of a bluff. as i was looking at it, for some reason it came to my mind that it reminded me of the wisconsin dells area. i say for some reason because i hadn’t been there since i was a kid. truth be told, i don’t recall any memories there. i have, however, seen slides from my dad of the area in general and what i was seeing across the ravine just had that feel to it.


what was especially cool to me was that the path was framed by oaks and maples, some still green and some exploding with color! the path sort of follows the zig zag where the colorful draperies of the trees had partially opened up. it was so cool to be able to create this image!



i then decided to head back to where the falls drop off and continue on in the other direction. i said hi to a fellow hiker while pulled off to the side of the path to allow him through. the path there was not wide enough to comfortably allow two people to pass side by side. to one side is a steep incline. to the other side is a steep decline. wise beyond my years, i chose the steep incline side since i didn’t feel like rolling down the steep decline like an old timer stunt person if i lost my balance for some reason. on the steep incline side, had i lost my balance and fell one way, i would have just thudded against the soft diagonally rising ground packed with fallen leaves. falling the other way, i would have had a soft landing on top of the hiker. i’m sure he wouldn’t have appreciated it but i would have!


i hiked to the bluffs looking out over the mississippi river on the other side, stopping periodically to take in my surroundings. at one of my stops, i created this image that i shared recently to my facebook page.



i had forgotten how beautiful this sequestered woods was below the top portion of the park. up top is more of an open expanse co-existing with urban and residential dwellings and traffic. adding in the vibrancy of the fall colors that were on display made it that much more of an awesome sensory experience down in the woods.


i finally walked back to the drop off for the falls. from there, i made a right turn and headed back toward civilization, walking the narrow rustic path alongside shadow falls creek. i once again navigated over and around stones and tree roots for a bit before the path smoothed out and widened toward the entrance. a gradual incline accompanied the hike back as well.

as i stepped back onto the sidewalk once i exited the carpeted floors of the woods, i turned right to head back to my car. on the way, i came upon a black wrought iron fence that i had passed earlier and paid no attention to. this time, i noticed the grapevines intertwined with the fence. behind it, peeking between the gaps of the fence and the grapevine leaves was the fabulous orange color of trees that lined the steep slope leading down into the woods. i dropped to my knees on the sidewalk and gazed closer at the tendrils of the grapevine snaking around the vertical posts of the fence. there is just something very whimsical about it to me. alternating between orange and red, they offered a stark contrast on the black fence along with the green of the leaves. fortunately, i’m not self-conscious when creating images on my knees or laying prostrate on the ground. walkers and joggers passed by, looking over at me to see what i was creating an image of. this…this is what i was creating an image of!



i have to say, for me personally, this is one of my favorite images of the day! this image is rife with textures, colors, contrast and character. it is a scene that most people wouldn’t even give a second thought to stop and look at. i get great pleasure in finding scenes like this. it requires an open mind and looking not just at the overall scene, but within the scene as well. some of you that read my blogs consistently are probably aware of my fondness for “looking at the scene within the scene”. i’m not always successful in finding them. but when i do, again, it brings me joy! what’s that saying; it’s the little things in life? 😄


i was almost back to my car when i decided to check out a very popular overlook. there is also a world war one memorial there that honors those from st. paul and ramsey county (of which st. paul is a part of) who sacrificed their lives.


the overlook offers a great view of a three prominent minneapolis skyscrapers: ids tower, wells fargo center, and cappella tower. as i just mentioned, it is a very popular place for people to stand or sit and take in the views. it is a popular photography spot as well. i wasn't the only one at the park creating images. on this day, by standing on the platform just past the memorial by the steps leading down, i was able to create an image that i think has great depth of field. what i mean by that is as you move though the image from front to back, there is a sense of spatial awareness as opposed to just looking like two dimensional photograph.


first, there is a separation from the fence and trees on either side of it to the forest provided by the mississippi river in the foreground. second, the leaves on the trees next to the fence are significantly larger than those across the mississippi which also helps give depth midway through the image. finally, in the background, rising up behind the trees is a small portion of the minneapolis skyline slightly softened by the atmosphere. the sky also provides depth with the various shadings throughout.


i really love the colors, tones and textures throughout this image. the greens of the trees mid ground really help this patch of fall colors to shine bright! adding an extra oomph to this image is the sun briefly filtering through the heavy cloud coverage to add some ambient light on the trees. it was a bit of a nail biter moment though! there was a man who was also enjoying the view from right in front of the fence and taking some pics as well. i waited patiently hoping he would move before the sun was obscured again. i say waiting patiently but my mind was in full telepathic mode telling the man to get a move on 😂! finally, he turned, saw me there with my camera and tripod pointed in his direction and moved on. i was able to create four images with different exposure times in the span of less than 20 seconds before the sun disappeared for good. by utilizing a hdr (high dynamic range) blend of the four images, i was able to maintain the light and shadow ranges helping to create the depth of field. this turned out to be a gorgeous image if i may say so!



with that image “in the bag”, i packed it all up and trekked back the couple hundred feet or so to where my car was parked. i took off and headed back home, full of anticipation to upload all the images created today!

and this ends part three of my search for fall color blog series! i hope you enjoyed it! there is one more fall color expedition that i will be sharing. thanks for continuing the journey with me to enjoy some fall colors thus far!


here are some sample images of what these images might look like hanging in your home and/or business. if you are interested in any of them, simply reach out to me and i’ll help you get the ball rolling on putting together exactly what you are looking for. these images would also make great and unique holiday gifts as wall prints or matted prints to give to family and friends!


"path to the falls" - 27"x 40" metal print inset with floating frame


"drop off to color" - 12"x18" print with matte and frame


"bluff path through the colors" - 12"x18" metal print


"barren in front of color" - 12"x18" print with matte and frame


"grapevine in the fall" - 13"x20" metal print inset with floating frame


"fall view to minneapolis" - 24"x36" print with matte and frame


i also want to remind you that i have a 2024 calendar also available for purchase. most of the images for each month have been featured in my blogs, but there are some new images in this calendar! the link to purchase a calendar is at the top of each page on my website or simply click on the link below. if you are reading this blog on my facebook page, click on the link here



finally, just a reminder that december 2nd i will be showcasing and selling my photography art at my last show for the year. the show is called "art at hidden river". if you have attended an art show called "art at ramsey" in the past, it is the same show with a new name. this is a juried show with over 80 fantastic artists displaying and selling their art. this is a great show to get those unique and incredible gifts for those special family members and friends as well as yourself!. i encourage you to think about supporting me and the other local artists instead of the big box retailers through your holiday gift buying this year!




thanks so much for your continued support of my blogs! i hope this holiday season has started out well for you all. hopefully you are able to spend it with family and friends and in good health. i will see you soon with “more images from my quiet world”!



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