Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Adirondack Art: OK Slip Falls Inspiration

OK Slip FallsI climbed steadily over rocks and boulders, some the size of large pieces of furniture, for half a mile as I worked my way up OK Slip Brook. Sometimes in the thick growth along the shoreline, sometimes rock-hopping right up the brook itself. After a good 30-40 minutes, I came around a bend, crossed several sections of the brook at a gravelly section, and the falls came into sight ahead.

OK Slip Falls – around a 250 foot drop – sun coming in from the side, dark rocks, a small drop visible at the top, then the water comes over a ledge and drops almost the entire way, cascading into a pile of jagged boulders at the bottom. The sound of the graceful curtain of water dropping down was mesmerizing. A gust of wind brought a flurry of golden leaves fluttering down into the steep walled ravine, glowing brightly as they passed in and out of bands of sunlight.

Do you believe in karma? I do. I had an abundance of karma this day. My friend Frances and I were hiking into OK Slip Falls to do some plein air painting. She’d been there once before and I asked if she’d show me the way. The unmarked gated road is about 8.3 miles east of Indian Lake on Route 28. This tract of land was acquired by New York State as part of the purchase deal with The Nature Conservancy and while it is now open to the public, it involves a walk up the gated road for about a mile, then another mile or so on a trail to the overlook above the falls. The trail is pretty wide and easy to find – just watch for a telephone pole with the number 34 on it, on the right side of the road. There were some painted blazes, flagging and infrequent trail markers on the trees, as well as a few signs.

While preparing to start for the falls, we heard a vehicle coming up behind us and recognized the blue and green logo of the DEC on the side. It parked and out stepped Allison Buckley, a Natural Resources Planner with the Division of Lands and Forests for Region 5. Turns out it’s her job to help make plans for how the public will be able to use this property. She filled us in with some info about the falls and trails and the signs put up by the Northern Frontier Camp, a church-affiliated summer camp that will retain ownership of the 168 acres that surround OK Slip Pond, as well as the right of way on the road. In the future, there will probably be a trail from Route 28 so hikers will not have to walk up the dirt road. What a fortunate experience (karma) to get first hand information about the area from Allison, who has spent many days exploring it.

Frances Gaffney watercolorA mile down the trail, Frances and I approached the first overlook, and I carefully stepped out on the rock, eagerly hoping for a rainbow in the mist. That didn’t happen, but the falls were still spectacular. We were somewhat higher than the falls as the water seemed to just come right out of the forest and cascade down 250 feet! Some of the online articles about it state it’s the highest in the Adirondacks, others cite T-Lake Falls at 300 feet as the highest. But it didn’t matter – from both the first and a second overlook, it was a beautiful sight.

Frances had brought her watercolors and was all prepared to paint from the overlook. I had a pretty heavy pack with my oil paints and easel, but was curious about where some of the other trails went. Could there be some additional views? We’d turned right to find the overlooks, but there was a trail visible to the left too. We understood that we were not to follow it unto Northern Frontier property, yet I had to see what was there. Leaving Frances to paint, I went exploring. Carefully stepping through glades of luxurious moss, I found a trail that seemed to be dropping down to the top of the falls. It was pretty thick there, but staying on the trail a little further, I came to a footbridge over OK Slip Brook! On the other side, the trail went up, then turned right. Great – maybe a way to another viewpoint. It climbed for a while, then leveled off, then started gradually going down – but nowhere near the brook. The sound of the falls faded away. I tried to make mental pictures of what I was passing and where the sun was – the trail was not all that clear and as more leaves fall, will soon blend in with the rest of the forest.

I didn’t want to go too far, as I really wanted to paint, but I couldn’t seem to stop, curious about where the trail went. It started dropping pretty consistently and I got the sensation of approaching an opening. Then I saw the broad expanse of greenish water, moving, from left to right in front of me. Reaching the wooded shoreline and checking the map, I was surprised to discover it was the Hudson! If I read the map right, it is downstream of the Blue Ledges area. Turning downstream, it was just a short distance to where OK Slip Brook joined the river, and that’s how I ended up rock-hopping up the brook to see the falls from the bottom! I never did any painting, but did spend about an hour exploring around the base of the falls and taking lots of photos. I was concerned about the steepness of the climb back out and so soon headed back to find Frances. I’ll paint from my photos. Frances, however, produced a lovely watercolor!

The public is allowed to come explore the OK Slip Falls area, but be forewarned that there has not yet been any trail maintenance or development by the DEC. It’s also the time of year for hunting seasons, and it’s a pretty wild place. Bring maps, compass, GPS, and be prepared with sturdy hiking boots and adequate clothing and water. Best advice might be to wait for the state to establish the new trail. It’s an Adirondack destination not to be missed.

Photo above by Sandra Hildreth; watercolor below by Frances Gaffney.

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Sandra Hildreth, who writes regularly about Adirondack arts and culture, grew up in rural Wisconsin and is a retired high school art teacher. She lives in Saranac Lake where she was spends much of her time hiking, paddling, skiing, and painting. Today, Sandy can often be found outdoors Plein air painting - working directly from nature, and is an exhibiting member of the Adirondack Artists' Guild in Saranac Lake. She is also active in Saranac Lake ArtWorks. Sandy’s work can be seen on her website sandrahildreth.com.

5 Responses

  1. John says:

    Great article!

  2. Tom Williams says:

    My family owned the old camp that used to be at the foot of the hill on the south side of Rt. 28 and we were privileged to have hiking access to the falls from the 1930s until the camp burned in the 80’s. I have been to the spot countless times and in all seasons. Even camped out at the OK Brook / Hudson R. junction, and swam in the River pool there with a beaver for company! I’m very happy to see that lovely spot opened to the public finally. At one time a trail from Racquette Brook to Carter Pond crossed just above the falls. My father had fished and hunted back in that area. Carter Pond had an immense beaver dam and trout.
    The photo, painting and article were great.

  3. Thanks. I could tell that spot along the Hudson River had some history to it – it will definitely make a great destination for hikers and campers.

  4. Bob Bradley says:

    Sandra..Thanks for writing this article. I hiked to OK Slip Falls this past weekend and was overwhelmed by the beauty of the area. I feel very fortunate to live in a state where many citizens and government leaders believe that preserving wild lands is the right thing to do. In my mind, the ongoing monetary investment of purchasing former Finch Pruyn lands in the Adirondacks, and adding them to our Forest Preserve, is money well spent for the future enjoyment by the public. The challenge for the APA and ultimately Gov. Cuomo is to be able to decide which classification (wild forest, wilderness, etc..) will offer a balance of environmental protection of these lands, and yet give the public reasonable opportunities to access and enjoy them. In my mind, this accessibility shouldn’t be so limited that only the super adventurous, top conditioned hikers, paddlers, etc. can enjoy a beautiful sight such as OK Slip Falls. In this particular instance, I believe the existing woods road leading from Rte. 28 to the interior of the OK Slip Falls parcel, which is in very good shape, should be open for public use, at least during the late spring, summer, and early fall seasons. A parking area would have to be built somewhere near the trailhead to the falls, but I think providing this level of access will allow more folks, especially those who aren’t as able bodied as others, to enjoy this unique natural setting.

  5. mary coffin says:

    Nice article Sandy. It is on my bucket list.

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