About Me

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Spofford, New Hampshire, United States
Jeff Newcomer has been a physician practicing in New Hampshire and Vermont for over 30 years. Over that time, as a member of the Conservation Commission in his home of Chesterfield New Hampshire, he has used his photography to promote the protection and appreciation of the town's wild lands. In recent years he has been transitioning his focus from medicine to photography, writing and teaching. Jeff enjoys photographing throughout New England, but has concentrated on the Monadnock Region and southern Vermont and has had a long term artistic relationship with Mount Monadnock. He is a featured artist in a number of local galleries and his work is often seen in regional print, web publications and in business installations throughout the country. For years Jeff has published a calendar celebrating the beauty of The New England country-side in all seasons. All of the proceeds from his New England Reflections Calendar have gone to support the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at the Cheshire Medical Center. Jeff has a strong commitment to sharing his excitement about the special beauty of our region and publishes a weekly blog about photography in New England.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Fay Falls and Ashuelot Gorge

Upper Fay Falls

A Photographic Scramble

It's looking like waterfall season is coming to an end here in southwestern New Hampshire, not because the water has stopped flowing, but because the buds are beginning to explode on the trees.  Once the greening starts there is nothing that can compete with the daily progression of colors that make our spring a worthy, but softer, competitor to the flashy brilliance of autumn.  But, before I start getting disgustingly poetic about the miracle of new life, here is one more article about waterfalls, without which, the early barrenspring would be hopelessly uninspiring. This early spring I have been focusing my waterfall explorations on my home region of Cheshire County, New Hampshire.  I started with an article
Houghton Brook Below Fay Falls
about several of my favorite falls in the county, but
in the process of assembling a list of familiar waterfalls, I discovered a disturbing number of falls that I had never explored.  Most of these are less easily assessable spots with vague descriptions that I found on pages scattered throughout the internet.  It was annoying that there were perfectly good waterfalls in my backyard that I had never seen. This could NOT be allowed to stand.  I set out to correct the deficit.

My first quest took three tries and two blogs, but I finally discovered Pulpit Falls. The waterfall was spectacular, but my primary goal became to improve upon the confusing directions to Pulpit Falls and some of the other lesser known falls. My next targets were Fay Falls in Walpole and Ashuelot River Gorge in Gilsum. Neither was especially difficult to find, both were well worth the search, but both were notable for rather treacherous approaches down steep gorge walls.  Great care was needed.

Waterfall Safety
Waterfalls are notoriously dangerous places to navigate especially for photographers who are always trying to get just a bit further off
Emerald Pool,  Downstream
Houghton Brook
the beaten path for the best shot.  It is easy to lose footing on slippery, leaf coated rocks or soft insecure embankments. The resulting fall could break bones, cause death or worst of all damage your precious camera.  Always go slow and never depend on the solidity of untested footing.  Walking sticks can be helpful and it is important to keep equipment securely stowed in your pack while negotiating difficult terrain. Dangling Cameras and tripods can easily throw you off balance or snag on a random branch or rock. The basic rule should always be, “Take it slow and think before you move”.   My friend Kari Post has a great chapter about waterfall safety in her beautifully illustrated e book, "The Essential Guide to Photographing Waterfalls", check it out.

Fay Falls
Jumbled Fay Falls

Fay Falls is tricky to find and once found it requires a steep descent down the side of the gorge on Houghton Brook to get to the best photographic vistas.  On my visit last week the falls were quite nice with the exuberant spring flow.  The falls cascade over a couple of drops as it descend a steep and jumbled path. There are a number of locations along the left side of the falls that open to views of all or parts of the drop.

  • Directions: The falls are located off the County Road in
    Logging Road
    Walpole, New Hampshire.  Heading North on Route 12 along the Connecticut River, take a right on South Street heading into Walpole village. Cross Main Street and head up Prospect Hill Road.  Very shortly,  County Road will split off to the right. Follow County Road for 3.5 miles and then pull over at a
    Begin the Bushwhack
    logging road on the right which at present is marked by a sign, “No Wheeled Vehicles” and a metal gate on the opposite side of the road. At present there is no “No Trespassing” sign, but as always be respectful of the land and the wishes of the owners. Pull over to avoid blocking the road. Take care if there is active logging and don’t enter without permission.
  •  Parking: 43 01 49.489, -72 24 20.579  

Hike the logging road downhill toward Houghton Brook, but if you follow the road all the way to the brook you will be substantially downstream from the falls. I did this on my first attempt and found some lovely cascades but not Fay Falls.  The best way to go is to follow the road just a 100 yards or so until you see a large multi-trunked pine on the right. All but one of the trunks has been cut away.  I can't guarantee that any of the tree will remain when you get there, but If you reach the stone wall, you have gone too far. At the pine you will need to start bushwhacking to the left toward the sound of falling water and the precipitous bank of the Gorge. From here it is not far.  The bearing is roughly 115-120 degrees. The bank to the falls is steep and shouldn’t be attempted in excessively wet or icy conditions.  And there you are.  Enjoy the cloistered drama of the falls and perhaps take a picture or two.  The good news is that steep banks are generally easier to climb than to descend.
  • Fay Falls:  43 01 46.480, -72 24 16.46

Ashuelot Gorge:
The Ashuelot River flows through a deep Gorge in Gilsum, New

Gilsum Stone Arch Bridge
Hampshire,north of Keene.   It is spanned by an impressive stone arch bridge carrying Surry Road west of  Route 10.  Built in 1862-63, the bridge is the largest dry-laid stone bridge in the state and towers nearly 45 feet above the riverbed.  The gorge creates a dramatic series of cascades and rapids that are popular with white water kayakers, but also provides several lovely photographic opportunities.  In addition to the cascades a dramatic multi-tiered waterfall plummets down the south wall of the gorge into the surging river below. The cascades can been seen, to a limited degree, from the stone bridge, but to truly appreciate the power of the surging water, you will need to descend the steep wall of  the north side of the Gorge.  Once again this should be approached with great care and only in good conditions.  Depending on the height of the flow there may be few places to set up at the rivers edge. 

Ashuelot Gorge

  • Directions: Head north from Keene, New Hampshire on Route 10 (Gilsum Road).  Approaching Gilsum, the stone bridge is impossible to miss on the left.  Immediately after crossing the bridge, park in the entrance to a dirt path which heads upstream.   A sign here describes the bridge and it's history.  Walk a short distance west on Surry Road and you will see a rough opening in the side of the road heading down the bank to the river.  
The Bank

 There is no distinct trail but you can see routes taken by others as they have slithered down the side.  Once again, be very cautious, plan every step, and keep your hands free for scrambling.  On a couple of occasions I surrendered to the need to slowly slide on my butt through especially questionable sections.  Hold on tight, but be careful not to contribute to erosion by digging up the bank.  The drama at the bottom is dependent on the strength of the flow and, of course it is most impressive in the spring and after substantial rains.  The pictures will be great, but don't forget to take some time to quietly enjoy the awesome power of nature and without a thought about f-stop or shutter speed.

Falls and Rapids

"Gilsum" Falls
Gilsum Falls

After all this scrambling, I can't resist offering one bonus waterfall. I'm not sure this one has an official name, but when the water is flowing it can be quite lovely.  It is just a short way from the Ashuelot Gorge, further north on Route 10.  Perhaps most importantly it is right by the side of the road.  No scrambling required.  The only danger is the risk of getting mangled by a passing truck.  The falls are located about 1.4 miles north of the Stone Arch Bridge on the right side of Route 10.  There is a small turnoff, but it can easily be missed without careful attention.  It is not large, but when flowing strongly, the falls have a nice meandering pattern.


Well I think I have talked enough about waterfalls for awhile. After all of this, if you don't have a strong urge to pee, a urology consultation is indicated.   It has been exciting to find some new falls in my own backyard and I hope my descriptions will be helpful as you explore some of these lesser known attractions of Cheshire County.  Enjoy, be careful and most of all be respectful of our abundant natural treasures.

Jeffrey Newcomer