When most people think of Iowa they imagine flat farmland filled with corn and cattle, but Northeast Iowa is the exception. This part of the state has remained unchanged since the glaciers of the last Ice Age passed through and formed its unique geology, naming it the Driftless Region. Since this region was untouched by glaciers it is characterized by its beautiful sculpted topography, with rolling hills, high bluffs, algific talus slopes, caves and cold water streams. These characteristics make it such an exciting area to explore.
One of my favorite things about Northeast Iowa is the cascading coldwater streams and springs. Some of the springs are easy to find and access, while others require a little more effort. All the falls I have found in the area range in size and flow. There are some that rage with so much water they take your breath away and others are dainty and delicate.
Here are a few places that you can easily see some of these unique features:
Pikes Peak State Park, McGregor Iowa: Bridal Veil Falls
On the trail, hikers can explore beautiful wooded bluffs and valleys overlooking the Mississippi River. There is a boardwalk trail the goes over a portion of the park and goes by Bridal Veil Falls. This spring fed creek meanders through the woodlands and tumbles off over the rocks. This is a beautiful area to explore no matter what time of the year.
Dunning Springs, Decorah Iowa:
Dunning Springs is a city park located just a few minutes from downtown Decorah. This 200ft spring has a few hiking trails, picnic areas and a boardwalk that goes up above the falls.
Bixiby State Park:
The park is located 3 miles north of Edgewood, Ia. Bixiby has a lot of unique things to explore from creeks, springs, ice caves, and wildlife. My favorite part of Bixiby is the Ice Cave; cold air seeps out at all times of the year and you might even find ice in the cave at the end of July. There are many areas to hike and wade through the water. I like to follow Bear Creek towards the west. There are a lot of interesting rock layers and cascading water along the rocks and layers. Grab your water shoes or rubber boots and explore the wonders of Bixiby State Park.
Additional areas to explore (that are a little more rugged): Mossy Glen, Dutton Cave, Coldwater Creek, Malanaphy Springs
Not only are the springs fun to explore, but trying to capture the motion of water over the rocks into a unique photograph can be a bit of a challenge. Here are some helpful tips I discovered while learning to capture moving water and waterfalls:
Time of day: I prefer to photograph waterfalls on overcast days or right before sunset and sunrise. Waterfalls don't photograph as well in nice, sunny weather. It causes the water to have glares and can often be overexposed. Having a polarizing filter comes in handy to help cut back on the amount of reflection and the amount of light entering the camera.
Settings: When you are dealing with moving water there are two options. You can freeze the motion by using a fast shutter speed or capture and enhance motion with a long shutter speed that blurs the moving water, making it look silky smooth. This will require a tripod, so the camera is completely still for the full time the shutter is open. Keep in mind that you don’t want the water to be a detail less blob of white, make sure the exposure is set appropriately. I usually start with setting the camera on manual mode and set the ISO to 100. The aperture needs to be small enough to maximize the focus, usually f/8 or larger. Depending on the speed of the flowing water, I usually shoot between half a second and 2 seconds to get a nice, silky smooth flow. If you don't like the silky smooth look and want to try freezing the motion, try setting it around 1/500th of a second. It doesn't hurt to adjust the shutter speeds to see what works best for you and how you like the water to look.
Position: Find the angle that brings out the best of the waterfall. Waterfalls and cascading streams can be photographed at different angles, wider full shots or just a small section of water. Look at the different ways the water flows, some will have multiple streams or one gentle stream. It is always good to move around and get different views and positions. I usually like to shoot the waterfalls at a slight angle to better capture the cascading water off the rocks.
Just remember, get out there to practice and have fun, enjoy the outdoors!