BRENT PENNINGTON White Deer Creek meanders through the dense hemlock forest in McCalls Dam State Park, deep within Bald Eagle State Forest near Mifflinburg, PA.  Photographed the afternoon of 29 August 2015.

When I tried to leave Sand Bridge State Park, I discovered that I was on the very edge of cell service; I might have been able to punch a call out, but there was no data stream, which meant that my GPS was inoperative.

I’m a Google fan, I’ve got an Android phone, and I love using Google Maps and it’s navigation feature.  But this is one of those times when a stand-alone GPS (or GPS app) would have been useful.  But no matter, I’m not so much of a tech weenie that I can’t still get around the old-fashioned way.  I have a compass suction-cupped to the windshield of my Jeep, and a stack of maps (of varying degrees of usefulness) in the back.

And so I found McCalls Dam State Park on the map, albeit with no obvious roads leading to it.  I chalked it up to the lack of fine detail on the map – one of those free Tourist Attractions of PA maps that you find at all the welcome centers – and figured that if I went down the road past Raymond B Winter State Park, I’d find the turn eventually.

BRENT PENNINGTON White Deer Creek meanders through the dense hemlock forest in McCalls Dam State Park, deep within Bald Eagle State Forest near Mifflinburg, PA.  Photographed the afternoon of 29 August 2015.

Turns out that if you drive west past RB Winter, you do indeed find a sign directing you to McCalls Dam, which is kind of lumped in with RB Winter in terms of access, as you actually drive through part of RB Winter to get there.

I should mention here that Sand Bridge, RB Winter, and McCalls Dam are all either on the edge of, or within, Bald Eagle State Forest.  And if you’re not familiar with PA’s state forests, they can be summed up kind of like this: they tend to be quite large, usually without any kind of cell service, and parts of them can be very remote.

From the RB Winter park drive, the road to McCalls became gravel – well graded and in great shape.  I climbed the mountain, past an overlook down onto RB Winter and the view beyond, and headed into Bald Eagle State Forest.  The trees became thick, the light tinted green.  I drove and drove, every now and then passing a simple wooden sign marking a trail, or the odd turn-off in the road.

After three miles, at the point where I was starting to wonder if I’d missed a turn (and was beginning to idyllic contemplate the nuances of being lost in a maze of little-marked state forest roads with no map and no GPS), I came down a small incline, over a bridge that spanned a creek, and found myself in the (spacious) lot at McCalls Dam State Park, which is situated precisely in the middle of nowhere.

BRENT PENNINGTON Dense, lush ferns line the forest floor alongside White Deer Creek in McCalls Dam State Park, deep within Bald Eagle State Forest near Mifflinburg, PA.  Photographed the afternoon of 29 August 2015.

Why there is a state park here, in the middle of a state forest, in the middle of nowhere, I cannot even begin to tell you.  There is no dam anymore, and mill that was later built by McCall is also long gone.  What you find is a small clearing under the trees, with a half-dozen picnic tables on the side of the creek.

The DCNR page for McCalls Dam State Park describes it thusly: “The sound of White Deer Creek pervades the quiet, remote McCalls Dam Park. Majestic pines, hemlocks, maples and oaks reach for the sky around the small picnic area. Bald Eagle State Forest surrounds the 8-acre McCalls Dam State Park.”

BRENT PENNINGTON Dense, lush ferns line the forest floor alongside White Deer Creek in McCalls Dam State Park, deep within Bald Eagle State Forest near Mifflinburg, PA.  Photographed the afternoon of 29 August 2015.

I don’t exactly know where into the woods all 8 acres go, but I can confirm that the sound of White Deer Creek does indeed pervade the park.  In fact, it’s the only sound that you can hear, and after a few minutes it becomes almost deafening.  I’ve never heard a creek sound so loud in my life, but only because my ears were straining to hear any other sound.  But aside from the twittering of a few birds, the creek was it.

It’s a little unnerving being that far out into the woods alone.  It’s very likely that there wasn’t another human being for miles.  It wasn’t uncomfortable, and I didn’t get spooked or nervous.  There was just an awareness of being alone in a remote place well beyond my normal travels.

BRENT PENNINGTON White Deer Creek meanders through the dense hemlock forest in McCalls Dam State Park, deep within Bald Eagle State Forest near Mifflinburg, PA.  Photographed the afternoon of 29 August 2015.

I setup the tripod on the banks of White Deer Creek and shot a number of frames looking upstream, at a small falls created by a log laid across the creek, much like the one at Sand Bridge, minus the extra geometry.  I used the 12-40mm again with the polarizer and ND, and the shade of the forest darkened the scene even more.

The creek was lovely, but what really drew me was the expanse of hemlock forest beyond the far bank.  The forest was dense enough that you could only see maybe 30 meters before the mass of trunks formed a horizon, but across that view the entire forest floor was blanketed by tall ferns, forming the kind of lush forest floor that you imagine only exists in coastal Washington.

I worked several angles with the ferns, trying photos from above and from their level, seeing what worked best.  There really wasn’t any bad angle, although some may have been better than others.

I wasn’t at McCalls for too long; I didn’t want to go trekking into the woods on my own, with no means of contacting the outside world should I need to.  And the forest was dense!  According to the map, there’s a bridge across the creek upstream, which I never saw.  I don’t think I saw the bathrooms that are supposed to be there.

As I said, the woods are dense.

Brent Pennington is a freelance photographer and the driving force behind The Roving Photographer. When he\’s not working with portraiture or promotional clients, he’s usually in the field, hiking, or kayaking in pursuit of nature and wildlife shots.

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