2023 – The Stunning Icy Mist Creations of Paterson, NJ’s Great Falls
………………………………………….(ignore April 30, 2017 publish date – this was published on December 30, 2023)
This is my last post of 2023 and it may be my favorite. I’ve shot the falls many times over the last few decades, but this one had the most unexpected surprises.
I always say that I want to shoot the falls when the water volume is highest after major rainstorms, but rarely do. However, we recently had two days of rain that dumped 4-5” locally and caused the Passaic River to flood a couple of towns, including parts of Paterson.
I HAVE to go check this out!
The rain occurred on December 17 and 18. Things were shaky on the 19th, so I went on the morning of the 20th.
Because the pedestrian bridge over the falls has been closed for the last couple of years, I broke this shoot down into two parts: front and back (south and north). I’d park in the main lot and shoot the falls at the south end straight on and then drive around to the back end and enter the Mary Ellen Kramer Park on the north end by Hinchliffe Stadium.
I figured a lot of people would be doing the same thing, but the parking lot was pretty empty………….good – more room for me!
The falls volume was pretty high and the basin was churning from all the rushing water:
But if you look at the right half of the falling water under the (closed) pedestrian bridge, it’s gray and obscures a good part of what you can see of the falls.
That’s actually a good thing because what that is is an incredible volume of mist spraying upward. If you look just above the bridge, some of the homes are partially obscured by the mist. I can’t WAIT to get over to the northern part of the park to shoot this up close!
Meanwhile, whatever detritus has been swept along by the raging river and cast over the falls has been collecting in a corner of the basin by the power plant:
I’d like to move closer and more on the level of the water as I usually do, but I notice that a lot of work is being done “downstairs” and everything is fenced-off, so I have to make-do with a panoramic shot of the entire scene from a few steps below (REMINDER: click all PANOramic shots – some of them twice – to fully enlarge……..and if you do click twice, you’ll probably need to do some side-to-side scrolling. Hit your back button to return to this page):
From left to right, you can see the amphitheater, the power plant, the falls and the mighty Passaic continuing downriver to the right (you’ll see a shot of that from the cliff above the river later on).
Time to head back to the parking lot, but first, I have to take a PANO shot of the quote on the wall below the lot from my couple-of-steps-down vantage point. It’s from famous Paterson poet Allen Ginsberg: “The weight of the world is Love”:
If you’d like to know here that comes from:
Back to our show:
Notice how unjammed the parking lot is. Truth be told, I saw a total of maybe 3 other people – at most – while I was there. One of them drove the white van with the dish on top from News12 New Jersey. He had a TV camera on a tripod near where I was shooting from and was photographing the power of the falls.
Of the other two people, one was a woman whose only apparent interest was exercise: running up and down the steps of the amphitheater a couple of times. And the third guy was just standing around looking like he may want to sell me something in a small bag (“Hey – we’ve got stores for that now.”)
Anyway, most of the vehicles in the lot seemed to belong to workers.
Where IS everybody? Must be on the north part.
Let’s go see.
Usually, I’d leave the car in that lot and walk around the park’s perimeter to get there, but time was short and with practically nobody visiting the south end, maybe the same would be true on the north end and I could find a space on the street there.
Did I ever! I parked on the street almost directly across from the Mary Ellen Kramer (wife of former mayor) Park entrance AND Hinchliffe Stadium! I got out of the car and immediately took this PANO shot:
(the park entrance is that driveway on the right………….and look at that mist bloom in the distance!)
You may have noticed two structures in the park close to the entrance. Those are the pump house (left) and the gate house (right), which are currently undergoing historical renovations (PANO):
Here’s a picture I took of them in August, 2018:
It’s hard to see, but the pump house’s door (far left) was open. Unauthorized entrance was not permitted, so I stood in the doorway and took 3 pictures that I stitched together and here’s what most of the interior looked like (STITCH/PANO):
From a 12-4-23 article on northjersey.com:
The pump house is still functional, helping to supply 20 million gallons of water per day to homes in Paterson, Clifton and Passaic.
Officials said they were unsure how the gate house will be used once renovations are completed next August.
In this pump house shot, you can see water behind it going over the northernmost part of the falls (PANO):
In this 2018 photo taken from behind the pump house (and looking south), you can see that the normal flow is calm enough for geese to swim by near the edge:
And through the “normal” amount of mist, you can make out the pedestrian bridge.
In this same-day shot FROM the pedestrian bridge, you can see that northernmost falls section in the upper middle:
Back to the present: Things are not so calm in that same location on 12-20-23 (and there was not a swimming goose to be seen anywhere near here):
OK – ready for the fun part?
This panoramic shot was taken from the pathway by that northernmost falls section and looks dead south toward Garret Mountain:
That mist produced the first OMG! moment. The picture was taken at 10:16am. The temperature was 34º and the light wind was obviously coming from the west.
But let me direct your attention to the middle of the photo. See that big rock in the waterfall?
I zoomed in to get a closer shot of it, but something else immediately grabbed my attention:
Look at all the icicles! And they’re all almost the same size and uniformly-placed………..it looks like multiple icicle production lines!
From another angle:
I’ve got to continue southward, but the pathway is starting to become a solid sheet of ice. The grass is similarly-coated, but at least when you step on it, it crunches and becomes slightly less slippery, so no more pathway for me.
IN this PANO, you can see the progression of the pathway from clear(ish) to crunchy to sheet of ice as you look from right to left (the rainbow is a nice touch):
But things are starting to look very interesting on the left as I enter Iceland.
The shrubbery and the sheltered sign are wearing their coats of ice well (PANO):
I’m glad I took this closeup of the shelter and its icicles because that’s not snow that you see – that’s the mist, which has gotten a lot heavier the further south I go:
I was getting soaked and my fingers started getting uncomfortably cold. Normally, I would want to take some sort of picture to illustrate the amount of moisture I received, but I was too busy trying to maintain verticality to do that.
Fortunately, I remembered that I already took a photo that illustrated the MMQ (Mist’s Moisture Quotient) during a visit last May:
On to the shrubbery! (PANO)
Wow! This is stunning! Even the garbage receptacle has its own little row of icicles. And if you look behind all this on the left, you can see that the top bar of the closed pedestrian bridge’s gate is also sporting a nice set of frozen daggers.
I think this needs a closer look:
Gorgeous! Everything is so perfectly-coated! And even if the bridge was open, it would have been closed today anyway because the mist frequently gives it an ice coating in Winter (and I’ve encountered Winter bridge closings here before).
Here’s one from 2019 (though it may have been due to snowfall rather than mist):
Let’s back up two pictures to the current gate at the bridge. What’s that in the bottom left corner? It looks like a frozen wheelchair:
Nope – it’s an icily-enhanced bench with some temporary – but really nice – additions.
From another angle (and in B&W):
Looking back, here are two lampposts – one totally-iced (and looking old and gray) in the heavy mist zone and the other looking new with only an icicled lamp shade and a colorful nearby neighbor (AND an un-iced bench):
Well, I can’t go any further south, but I can back up a bit east, up the slippery slope of the grass to get a wider view that goes from Garret Mountain (under the mist-shrouded sun) to the northernmost section of the falls (PANO):
(I wish I had zoomed in on the top of that tall pole.)
But the real reason I’m heading in an easterly direction is to get that shot I mentioned much earlier from the cliff that overlooks the Passaic River after it’s gone over the falls and is heading away from the post-falls basin (PANO):
Oh look! Two new people!
That brings the total number of people I’ve seen during this great visual event in this northern section of the Great Falls National Park to SIX!
There was a woman who walked up to me and said, “Isn’t this amazing?” and then said that only a completely frozen waterfall could top it. She’s right.
I saw one guy whose feet slipped right out from under him and he landed on his rear end, but sitting upright. He came over and laughed about it (so did I).
I saw two other guys taking occasional cell-phone shots and quickly leave.
It’s time for me to head back.
I can’t resist a wide PANO shot of the open end of Hinchliffe Stadium………….
……..and all the activity at the northern end of the park (PANO):
That’s it! See ya!
P.S. In all this time since, I’ve not seen a single icy shot anywhere on TV or in my newspaper (which usually jumps on stuff like this). However – after much research – I have finally found some other images from around the time I was there. These were taken by Armando Arturo, possibly on December 22:
He’s a very good photographer who shoots the falls a LOT! Some of his best shots that I saw appear to be taken late in the day when the light is lower and he uses slow-shutter speeds for that silky effect on the water. I could not do that in bright sunlight.
Oh wait! I DID do that once – on film in 1991, with a cute friend who had little regard for the “Sheriff’s Line Do Not Cross” tape (gotta get that shot, right?):
Anyway, there are a lot more interesting falls shots (and a ton of other good stuff) on the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park Facebook page:
Included in those goodies is this old map of the Passaic River, before and after the falls:
NOW I’m done………………except for this 48-second video I shot of the south and north ends, so you can hear what I saw (crank up the volume):
Hope you enjoyed the post – let me know in the comments what you think – and have a very Happy New Year!
And ANY time you want to look at the falls: