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.

Seeing D.C. with Dad

To say my dad is a jack of all trades would be a terrible understatement. In the 25 years I’ve known him — you know, since I opened those brown eyes of mine in the hospital — he has been a positive go-getter the likes of which I can’t describe. Never one to sit still for long, Dad has worked in many fields and never been afraid to expand his horizons — either as an award-winning sportswriter, Realtor or, most recently, tour guide in nearby Washington, D.C.

Dad is a huge history buff, and becoming a tour guide is a natural extension of his love of all things local and historical. Stretching my web skills a bit, I recently built his website — Monumental Thoughts — where he’s writing personal essays about Washington and its people, attractions and quirks. Many of my D.C. photos are up on the site, too.

The city is a lively, crazy and exciting place, and I loved the summer I interned for The Washington Examiner just blocks away from the White House. I never would have made it down there if it weren’t for my parents’ encouragement, of course; my mom has worked in the city for decades and Dad grew up traversing the city streets, visiting often to see the sights and cover sporting events. Keep your wits about you but d0n’t be afraid, they said. Act like you own the place.

And that was sound advice.

A New York transplant, my boyfriend Spencer loves nothing more than hopping on the Metro and exploring the District on a random Saturday. We’ve visited the U.S. Botanic Garden, one of my favorite places downtown, and attended events like the National Book Festival and the U.S. Science and Engineering Festival. We pop in camera shops, grab burgers and meander down side streets filled with museums, statues and government offices.

Growing up, I have crystalline memories of visiting all the monuments with my parents and listening to my dad share interesting tidbits about each location. I’ve always loved the Washington Monument — or “the big pencil,” as my sister and I called it — and still get a thrill seeing it pop into view when we fly home. Dad’s brain is filled with more interesting facts about it and nearly every spot in the city, and I’m proud to see him turn that love into a new opportunity.

The cool thing about cities is the juxtaposition of the old and the new — the recent and the historical — in such small quarters. The boarding house of Mary Surratt, the first woman hanged in the U.S. in association with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, is now a Chinese restaurant. Near the U.S. Capitol, that enduring symbol of democracy, is an awesome market that draws locals and tourists by the droves — and has since 1873. But there’s a coffeeshop on the corner there serving up lattes, cappuccinos and chai tea . . . probably not favorites of our forefathers.

There’s all of that to see — and more. And if you’re here to see it, my dad would be the one to show you.