Its amazing how much outdoor fun you can have on an “off day” on vacation. On my August 2010 trip into western Pennsylvania I spent one morning getting groceries and doing laundry in Oil City, along with my friend Judy. But once we had food and clean clothes for the next few days, we had the afternoon free.

I brought with me on this trip several guidebooks about scenic places in the state, and while my clothes were in the washer and dryer I searched for spots in the Oil City area. We discussed riding the Sandy Creek Trail again, and so I got into my riding gear.  Before we went to the trail, however, we made a trip to Kennerdell Overlook. The sky was clear, and so we had a spectacular view of the Allegheny River. I saw there seemed to be a hiking trail near the overlook, but we left that for another day.

One of my guidebooks mentioned a waterfall, Freedom Falls, with a short and easy hike from the road. Assuming we would be able to easily find the small road it was on, we postponed the planned ride till later that afternoon. Finding the falls turned out to be a challenge involving a lot of driving around on back roads. Once we found the parking area we experienced a harder than advertised hike to the falls. The distance was short, but the hillside steeper than we expected. Judy was OK but I had a little trouble, for I was dressed for riding as I hiked, wearing full kit and Crocs.

Once we reached the falls, we found it was worth the trip. Freedom Falls is big, standing over twenty feet tall and fifty feet wide. Even in the middle of an August dry spell it was impressive. The water flow in Shull Run was low enough that I could stand safely near the lip of the falls and shoot down into the plunge pool. Talk about not having a net!

Once I’d taken photos from the top, it was time to see the face of the falls. I returned to the bank of the run and made my way down to the plunge pool. I hesitated at first, but then went in.  The water level was below my knees, and refreshingly cool. Crocs were the perfect wading shoe, and I’d have not gone into the water had I been wearing hiking boots.

Photography is a fascinating subject, but I’m not a skilled photographer, nor do I have anything beyond a point and shoot.  But I do try to practice the good advice I’ve been given or read. One of my favorite guidebook writers is Scott Brown, author of Pennsylvania Waterfalls. Brown advised when shooting to use a lower shutter speed and a tripod, and to try to use a filter to reduce background highlighting. The woods were showing up as very bright, and since the falls as a whole weren’t heavily flowing I focused on segments of the waterfall. This let me make the water the focus and allowed me to ‘crop’ out the woods. I won’t call my photos professional or serious, but they pleased me very much. And they still do. Seeing them again reminds me of a cool afternoon along and in Shull Run.

Not quite as cool was the climb uphill. I suppose I could get a decent footing in Crocs, but my pair are a size larger than my hiking boots, and my wet feet shifted in them as I climbed. I must have looked ridiculous to anyone who saw me; a fat, knock-needed guy in bib shorts, jersey, and orange Crocs climbing up a hill on hands and knees.

We spent an hour and a half hiking and shooting at the falls, and for an off day I’d worked up quite a hunger. Having gotten in an adventure, we decided Sandy Creek could wait for another day, so we headed back to our campsite at Two Mile Run County Park. I’d offered to make dinner, but on discovering that my campfire specialty was tuna hash, my companion decided she would cook. That evening Judy showed off her skills at camp cookery with steak, corn on the cob, fresh beans and squash, and tea, prepared over the fire pit an on her stoves. It capped an exciting and active “off day” for the two of us.