How I failed to Photograph Mill Creek Falls

I have photographed many of the waterfalls within an hour’s car drive of Cookeville.  One, that I shot six years ago, Mill Creek Falls, has been on my list to re-do.  This is the story of my attempt to photograph it.

Mill Creek Falls is accessed by walking downstream of Waterloo Falls along the Spring Creek Wild and Scenic River.  This region of Spring Creek has more drops than your favorite dubstep song, which may explain both why this section of stream is so popular with kayakers, as well as kayaker’s obsession with dubstep.  Unfortunately, my soundtrack for the day sounded more like the Benny Hill theme song.

Unable to recruit anyone to make the trek with me, I set out alone, grabbing a few extra plastic bags for the trash I was assured to find along the way.  My standard gear set for a photo hike includes:

  • Camera - I shoot a Canon T2i, and a Pentax Optio WG-1 (currently in the shop)
  • Tripod
  • Tiffen ND and polarizer filters
  • Nalgene bottle of water
Given that this was going to be a creek walk I donned my Chacos and put on a pair of quick-dry Patagonia shorts.  I could also count on taking a few spills, so I also packed my Pelican cases - one for camera gear, another for my cell phone.

Landscape photography is part luck, part skill, and part location.  You can do something about your skill and location, but luck is having good weather, lighting, and timing.   As luck would have it, today was a beautiful day, and sunset (my favorite time to photograph) was looming.

My goal being Mill Creek Falls, I bypassed the several small waterfalls, interesting rocks and plants along the way.  Those can be photographed on the way back.  After about 35 minutes of creek-walking, scrambling, and busting-my-butt-in-the-creek, I could see my destination.  Large, looming on the left, Mill Creek spills over a ledge higher than its upstream companion, Waterloo.  But between us, there was a long, deep pool.

Not being excited about swimming with my gear, I searched for, and found an alternate route.  After a sketchy climb through dead fall from the recent tornado, I hit an overgrown path.  I could see about 30 feet forward.  It was knee-high with stinging nettle, and I was wearing sandals and shorts.  Turn back?  I think not!  Cue the soundtrack.

Mentally chanting my mantra, “anything for the shot,” I pushed my way forward through stinging insanity.  I reached the end what I had previously seen and was confronted with another 50 feet of stinging nettle.  I was only vaguely aware that I was drooling at this point, but fortunately, my animal brain was still working.  It made the decision for me that it was time to head back and scrub my legs with broken glass and freezing water.  Having neither available, I opted to utilize the nearby spring and spent about 10 minutes scrubbing my legs with my fingernails in the cold water.  Note to would-be-adventurers, alcohol swaps work amazingly well at neutralizing stinging nettle poison.

Waterloo Falls at sunset, Spring Creek, Overton Co, TNPassiflora incarnata, Spring Creek, Overton Co, TNUnnamed falls 1, Spring Creek, Overton Co, TNVerbascum thapsus detail, Spring Creek, Overton Co, TNAlbizia julibrissin, Spring Creek, Overton Co, TNUnnamed falls 2, Spring Creek, Overton Co, TNSpring Creek 1, Overton Co, TNUnnamed falls 3, Spring Creek, Overton Co, TNSpring Creek 2, Overton Co, TNJusticia americana, Spring Creek, Overton Co, TN