Early morning at Great Falls

Few things in life are enticing enough to get me to set my alarm clock for 4:02 a.m.

A day of unlimited funnel cake consumption, perhaps — with no caloric intake, obviously. Or an afternoon with a favorite author. Or a dash to the airport for an exciting vacation.

Up until Saturday, I wouldn’t have added “local waterfall” to that list — but I can occasionally be swayed. Our photo trip was to Great Falls, on the Virginia/Maryland border, and I’ve been wanting to visit the park for years. My love of waterfalls is deep and far-reaching, but I couldn’t hear someone talk about Great Falls without wanting to grab my Canon and capture it all.

But I had to get there first — at sunrise, no less. Our photography club organized an early-morning shoot convening at the falls and it sounded awesome . . . except for the whole getting-there-at-daybreak thing. Most of my photographer friends — and my boyfriend — are early risers and real go-getters, so the wake-up time didn’t disturb them in the least.

But for me? Captain Sleepypants? It was a serious deterrent. The last time I watched the sun come up, I was standing at my hotel room window in Wales on the final leg of our British vacation. Jet lag had reduced me to a pummeled mess, but I was determined to soak up the ambiance of a foreign country and couldn’t didn’t want to be deterred by something like sleep. Saturday was different, of course; I was choosing — of my own crazy volition — to get up before daybreak and travel to a waterfall in the dark, dark night.

But I had my mom and boyfriend with me. Along a stretch of scary, windy road cutting through the wilderness, we entered Great Falls and met up with a group of photographer friends. Our group headed straight for the first overlook, where I could hear the falls before I saw them.

Though we didn’t get spectacular colors, it didn’t matter much; it was enough to be standing there as the sky lightened and revealed strips of clouds. The light was soft and gray and natural, and our crew set up their tripods to capture water streaming down the Potomac and the shores of Maryland across the chasm. The Potomac was low, a friend pointed out — the water level is sometimes so high, most of those rocks aren’t visible.

Can you imagine?


Spencer is always way more adventurous than I am, so he trotted off on his own to make his way to the shore for a different vantage point. I didn’t notice where he’d gone until he called me from the rocks below and told me to look down. Seeing his red T-shirt among the rabble was like getting punched in the stomach — just thinking about being that close to the river made me feel shaky. (Spot him in the photo above?)

Despite years of swim lessons, I never actually learned to do more than tread water — and I don’t feel safe around lakes, rivers, oceans, swimming pools . . . you name it. It’s strange, then, that I’m so enamored with waterfalls — especially Niagara Falls — and try to see as many as I can. Compared to Niagara, of course, Great Falls looks like a dripping faucet — and neither have anything on Iguazu Falls (or Devil’s Throat), an amazing set of cataracts on the Argentina/Brazil border that another photographer friend visited recently.

But Great Falls is in my neck of the woods, easily accessible and more than worth a visit. And how awesome was it to have been up for hours on a photo trip by the time I would normally be getting dressed? It’s not easy, but I think our early-morning trips are a way to finally find more hours in the day.

9 thoughts on “Early morning at Great Falls

  1. gorgeous shots! i LOVE great falls! i went there for the first time in may and i’ve been going after work about every two weeks since then and just sitting along the rocks and enjoying the view. i’m actually going tonight after work! one of my favorite places in the dc area!


  2. ooh I love Great Falls! Have you ever been on the billy goat trail? it’s crazy but the amount of crowds (and little kids) on that trail is really impressive and kept me motivated to not whimp out! 😉 I love that your photography club went there, what a cool idea! That first photo is really breathtaking.


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