Droughts and Silver Mines: A Silver Creek Adventure

One of my friends from high school has a waterfall in her back yard (well, her parents’ back yard, now that she’s moved). I never spent much time at her house, but every time I visited I just wanted to splash around in the falls and climb the rocks. When she came home this summer, we wanted to get together and catch up, and I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to get some shots of the waterfall that I remembered so vividly.

However, my visit didn’t result in the awe-inspiring shots of a large and powerful waterfall that I had envisioned. Like much of the country, the Adirondack foothills and Black River Valley experienced a severe drought this summer; although I was acutely aware of this, I was shocked to see the effect that it had on this waterfall. While I’ve never taken photos here when the water level is normal, I was lucky enough to get permission from fellow waterfall enthusiast David J. Schryver to use some of his shots  to provide a much-needed comparison. David also runs a site that has been an absolutely indispensable resource for my waterfall hunting, so if you want to see other shots of many of the locations I’ve posted on this site, check out Northern New York Waterfalls. There are great, detailed descriptions of many of the falls in the area, as well as directions and information on accessibility. An astounding amount of work has gone into his site, and, since I’ve benefited from it greatly, David has my eternal gratitude.

So, back to Silver Creek Falls (listed as Moore’s Falls on David’s site; many of the falls in the region lack official names). David’s shot below represents what I was used to seeing when I visited. It’s a pretty impressive waterfall! Each drop is significantly taller than I am.

Wide shot of the entire waterfall, taken by David J. Schryver.

Wide shot of the entire waterfall, taken by David J. Schryver.

Instead, I saw algae. Lots of it. And a few thoroughly unimpressive trickles of water.  Now compare David’s shot to mine; you see that large, water-covered drop at the bottom? That’s exactly what’s in my image, albeit from a different angle. This wasn’t exactly an auspicious beginning, but I never turn down a chance to crawl around in a disgusting, algae-infested creek bed, so I pressed on. 

Waterfall during drought with pond scum and erosion

*Crickets* . . .Isn’t there supposed to be a waterfall here?

At least thus far, it didn’t look like my oft-preferred “big picture” approach was going to work well. There was no big picture; just algae. Attempting not to whine to my friends, I decided to make the most of the drought and focus on erosion, since some normally inaccessible rock features were visible. These wide circles and semi-circles were very common at this part of the creek bed. Normally, these would be water-covered and unnoticeable. I do like the circular shapes, and especially like the way that they contrast with the more angular parts of the creek bed. Still, this, and the many similar shots I took, were not what I had been hoping for. Luckily, I still had one more chance to get a shot, and all I had to do was walk a bit further upstream.

silvercreekone-2

Right. Just walk a bit further up the slippery, algae-choked stream. At least the wet rocks and algae reflected light beautifully, and produced many interesting colors. Otherwise, this portion of the trek wasn’t terribly noteworthy.

silvercreekone-6

Swamp Thing? Are you in there?

(Feel free to skip the following paragraph if you have a deep-seated hatred of reading, or of research: I suspect that Silver Creek, and this section of the waterfall in particular, used to be home to a silver mine. The following paragraph describes how and why I came to this conclusion. I even consulted a primary source! Who doesn’t love primary sources?)

After safely traversing the algae, I reached the beginning of the waterfall.  This area is particularly interesting. As David notes on his website, the area around this waterfall used to be the site of a mill of some sort and, as you can see in his photo, there are some suspicious cutouts to the left of the waterfall.  I attempted to dig up a bit more information about the waterfall and its neighboring mill, and found a few references to a silver mine in the area. This eBay listing (what, you didn’t know that eBay is a trusted scholarly resource?) is for a postcard Silver Creek Falls  and is titled “Silver Mill Falls.” As reliable a source as eBay is, I still decided to do some further research, and came across two books referencing a silver mine in the vicinity of this creek. The first account is from 1860, and refers to some mineral deposits along an unnamed creek (whose location is described, and matches that of Silver Creek) that “became widely celebrated as a silver mine.” Hilariously, this book also refers to the “widely celebrated” mine as “Silver mine, so called,” in its index.   The other source dates from 1867, and includes an excerpt of a local banker’s will wherein he grants a plot of land “lying between the two streams northwesterly from the old silver mine” to be used “for cemetery purposes.” The cemetery (yes, the cemetery – small towns make this kind of sleuthing a bit easier) does indeed lie directly northwest of Silver Creek, and is situated between Silver Creek and Mill Creek.

I’ve included another of David’s photos below; the area to the left of the waterfall, where a cutout in the rock is visible, is what piqued my interest – it doesn’t seem to be naturally formed. Of course, erosion does many interesting things, but the probable existence of a mine at this location, and the definite existence of a mill, suggests that this ledge could in face be man-made, and could even be the remnants of mining activity. David’s photo also will give you an idea of what this drop normally looks like; this is what I had envisioned when I imagined my shots of this location. The reality was a bit different.

The upper drop, by David J. Schryver.

The upper drop, by David J. Schryver.

My shot below was taken from roughly the same angle as David’s, just from a bit further away (please forgive the awkward composition; it’s cropped from a slightly wider shot). There is obviously much less water coming over the drop, and the creek bed in my shot is almost completely dry. The “shelf” below the falls also lacks water in my shot; the drought was obviously taking a huge toll on Silver Creek and its waterfalls.

silvercreekone-7

Although there was still significantly less water that I had hoped for, this area proved to be much more photogenic than the lower reaches of the waterfall. This shot shows how the low water revealed some beautifully eroded features on the creek bed. I absolute love the foam floating through the largest “circle” in the lower part of the image; with the water at its normal level, I would ever have had an opportunity to get a shot like this.

Silver Creek waterfall during a drought with obvious erosion

This is another example of a shot I would not have been able to take if the water had been at its usual level – the rocks in the foreground are usually covered by a steady stream of water. In this case, the low water definitely worked in my favor; during periods of high water flow it would have been more difficult to capture this “whirlpool” of foam, and impossible to capture it in such an advantageous location. In addition to the wonderful foam whirlpool and a small waterfall, this shot includes the cutout that made me question what this site had formerly been used for. Its location strikes me as suspicious, and the angles inside the cutout itself seem even more unnatural.

Adirondack waterfall with old mine and foam swirl

The exceptionally low water also made it significantly safer to cross the creek, which allowed me to scramble up into the cutout that so fascinates me. I took about seven shots from this location attempting to get the perfect angle and composition; nothing quite matched what I envisioned, but this is still one of my favorite shots from the entire day, and I think it’s particularly interesting since it’s taken from within (yet still depicts) my favorite feature in the area.

View of Adirondack waterfalls from an old mine

View of the falls from inside what might be part of the “silver mine, so called.”

Last but not least, a gallery! I got a number of nice shots, particularly of the more inspiring upper area of the falls. The gallery is definitely worth a look – the wide shot of the algae-filled creek bed is another one of my favorites.

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