From late December 2017 and into January 2018, Missouri has experienced some of the longest stretches of frigid winter weather in decades. When I say frigid, I mean the single digits and subzero on the Fahrenheit scale. The resulting effect of these temperatures has opened up some unique possibilities for photographers willing to brave the cold. Many of the geologic features in Missouri have taken on a totally different appearance under such conditions. Along with bluffs, caves and sinkholes (part of the karst geology for which the state is known) sandstone box canyons have been transformed into winter wonderlands, featuring ice flows and icicles draped over ledges. Forays into these environs yielded a new dimension to my portfolio. What is so unique and different?
One of the challenges of photographing Missouri's forests in wintertime can be composition. Although most trees are stripped bare of their leaves to expose the "structural bones" of the woodlands, the earthen tones and colors are very similar and tend to blend together indistinguishably. However, accents of ice under the right lighting conditions can create just the addition needed to enhance a scene's composition (if exposed correctly and with the right white balance). Additionally, oak trees in Missouri can be tenacious when it comes to shedding their leaves, thus one can find some trees with reddish brown leaves long into the winter months. Green pine trees and lichen can also add subtle touches of color, as well as mosses and sometimes even ferns. All of these elements, when found together, can combine to create a wonderful tapestry of earthen tones, colors and textures in a composition. Such was the case in the image above.
With such a long duration of cold temperatures, the possibility also increases for slow moving sources of water to freeze into ice flows over a period of time. For example, Pickle Spring, which flows through a state natural area of the same name, drops over a low ledge near a hiking trail. Over the course of time the water froze into a mass of ice as seen below.
The existence of these recent icy conditions seems to have been a catalyst for quite a number of outdoor enthusiasts to hit the trails and brave the weather in order to explore these winter wonderlands. Judging from the internet posts, many enjoyed seeing the icicles hanging from bluffs and ledges. Missouri's box canyons contain a number of intermittent waterfalls and the combination of ground water seepage and some light snowfall created frozen waterfalls in some places. The box canyon below is a favorite at Hickory Canyons Natural Area and it became a frozen waterfall. I have been in this canyon before in the wintertime but never seen it like this. I even saw a video on Instagram of some individuals climbing the waterfall with ice axes and crampons.
The enticement to photograph the ice in its various forms seems to have been great indeed. However, many of the images I have seen posted on the internet have focused primarily on the ice itself. For example, many images are simply comprised mostly of icicles. As I explored these areas, I found myself photographing the ice features in the context of their surroundings. Some of these surroundings were quite unique. For example, I explored a canyon at Pickle Springs that was considerably warmer than the surrounding area. the orientation of the canyon appears to have sheltered it from the cold. This canyon, seen below, was some much warmer I began to watch for active snakes. Quite unusual, since I was totally unconcerned outside the canyon because it was far too cold. Within this micro environment the ferns were still quite green while outside they had browned to greater and lesser extent.
Venturing beyond these canyons I visited one of my favorite parks in Missouri, Hawn State Park. I have always enjoyed the hike along Pickle Creek, exploring its photographic opportunities throughout the year. The creek is small but is spring-fed and thus has a steady flow of water. The frigid temperatures this winter froze the creek creating a meandering mass of ice weaving through the woodlands. The creek was not frozen solid and I could hear the water beneath making eerie noises in the stillness of the winter. I visited on two consecutive days and found that the ice from the creek kept the valley quite cold throughout the day. Below are two of my favorite images from these trips.
All in all, I would say that my new adventures this winter have been quite enjoyable, despite the cold. I have heard it said that the Scandinavians have a saying: "There is no bad weather, only bad clothing". Although there is some truth in that, it was hard to stay warm while photographing in these conditions. However, there is a quietness, peace and solitude in the winter forest which compensated. I am hooked and hope to return again in the future. If you would like to see more images from these trips visit the following galleries on my website: Hickory Canyons Natural Area Pickle Springs Natural Area Hawn State Park