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In still photographs, Triple Falls looks almost demure. Its cascades — the crown jewel of DuPont State Recreational Forest — unfurl over steep rock shoulders in soft waves. It’s Mother

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

In still photographs, Triple Falls looks almost demure. Its cascades — the crown jewel of DuPont State Recreational Forest — unfurl over steep rock shoulders in soft waves. It’s Mother

3 Perspectives on Triple Falls

Triple Falls

In still photographs, Triple Falls looks almost demure. Its cascades — the crown jewel of DuPont State Recreational Forest — unfurl over steep rock shoulders in soft waves. It’s Mother Nature disguised as a maiden, her shimmering tresses unpinned, tumbling gracefully down her back.

But that image is just an illusion.

In real life, as you climb the last steep pitch of the short trail up from the Hooker Falls Access Area, the roar of the Little River drowns out your heavy breathing. When you reach the split-rail fence where the waterfall is revealed, the rumble turns to thunder — the soundtrack for a visual display of power and beauty that takes away any remaining breath you have. Lush green hillsides, steepled with white pine and eastern hemlock, frame the falls that stair-step 120 feet down in just seconds, crashing onto the rocks below. This is Mother Nature in a commanding role: as Catherine the Great and Cleopatra, rolled into one.

A long, winding stairway delivers you to a flat rock surface so close to the second cascade that you can feel the boom of the falls in your chest. A breeze whisks a cooling spray across your skin, and the unmistakable scent of evergreen fills your nose.

As beautiful as the scene is, even in person, the power of Triple Falls goes beyond what you can see on the surface. You might find yourself surprised to learn of the hidden wonders of this waterfall — simply by standing in the shoes of someone you’ve never met.

Triple Falls

The natural beauty of Triple Falls captivates all who see it — and all for different reasons. photograph by Joshua_O_Rice/iStock/Getty Images Plus

The Geologists

Geologists Fred and Marianne Weaver

Now retired from their careers as geologists, Fred and Marianne Weaver continue to explore rock formations on their hikes around the Southern Appalachians. photograph by Tim Robison

Marianne and Fred Weaver’s love language includes words like “gneiss” and “lithology.” The couple met in the ’70s at Florida State University, where they were both head over heels about geology. Fred ultimately earned his PhD; Marianne, her master’s. In 2011, after spending their careers based in Texas and hopscotching the globe as geologists, the couple retired in Asheville for its abundant outdoor opportunities — and to indulge in their lifelong romance with rocks. “We never go on a hike without thinking of geology,” Fred says.

Yet the Appalachians pose a specific challenge for earth scientists. “In the Rocky Mountains, the Alps, the Dolomites, everything is exposed,” Marianne explains. But the topography of the Southern Appalachians is often hidden beneath dense forest. For the Weavers, Triple Falls, exposed amid an ocean of green, offers a tantalizing window into an often-shrouded history.

Much of the exposed rock around Triple Falls is part of a big geologic unit of Henderson gneiss — a type of metamorphic rock that was formed tens of thousands of feet deep in a crucible of terrific heat and pressure, making it incredibly strong and highly resistant to erosion. It took millions of years for the rock to become exposed — and even then, it was the tiniest sliver of what we see today.

According to Tyler Clark, a hydrogeologist for the NC Department of Environmental Quality and the former chief geologist for the State of North Carolina, if you were standing at the site of Triple Falls tens of thousands of years ago (give or take), you would have seen “a forest with a small creek running through it.” But water, the most patient of crafters, has slowly shaped its current appearance. “It’s easy to think that Triple Falls has been this way forever,” Clark says, “but it’s a relatively new feature to geologists. It’s an example of constant change.”

That change affects every facet of how Triple Falls appears today. Take its distinctive cascades: Different types of rock erode at different rates, and this “differential erosion” creates an uneven surface. When the water flows over it, “you get all kinds of splays and cascades,” Fred says. “All those erosional elements add beauty to the falls.”

For Clark, Triple Falls is certainly beautiful, but it’s just one page in a glorious book about the geological history of North Carolina. “The earth has a story to tell,” he says. “And rocks tell that story.”

How to see the natural world through the eyes of a geologist:

Geology & Natural History of the Blue Ridge Mountains

photograph by Matt Hulsman

Want to be a rock star without getting a four-year degree? Fred recommends reading Guide to the Geology & Natural History of the Blue Ridge. “It’s the best I know of for laymen,” he says. “It’s beautifully annotated and not that technical.” Even easier: Download the Rockd phone app, which puts the geology under your feet right in the palm of your hand. “We used to carry maps around with us all the time,” Marianne says. No longer. “Anywhere you go, the Rockd app shows you the surface geology, the formations, and the age.”

The water cascades down the falls and over rapids at Triple Falls

Torry Nergart returns to Triple Falls often to catch the scent of the forest, to feel the cooling spray of the water, and to hear the three waterfalls harmonizing in one thundering voice. photograph by Tom Moors

The Conservationist

Torry Nergart

Torry Nergart photograph by Tim Robison

Torry Nergart grew up a “wild and free kid” in Danbury. He canoed and fished and swam in the lake at nearby Hanging Rock State Park. He spent several summers at his grandmother’s house in Madison County, exploring coves and river bottoms, hunting arrowheads and ginseng. But nothing could have prepared him for his first encounter with Triple Falls in 2016. “It stops you in your tracks,” he says.

By then, Nergart had worked in some of North Carolina’s most beautiful state parks, including Gorges, Haw River, and Hanging Rock. Today, he’s the stewardship manager for Conserving Carolina, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting and preserving the natural world in western North Carolina and upstate South Carolina.

In the mid-’90s, the organization (then known as the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy) helped facilitate the sale and donation of 7,600 acres owned by the DuPont company to the Conservation Fund. Ultimately, it became DuPont State Recreational Forest. But a critical piece was missing: Triple, High, and Bridal Veil falls were not part of the purchase. At the time, they were owned by a developer who planned to build a gated community along the Little River, offering dramatic — but private — views. Thanks to a coalition of concerned citizens and environmental groups, the state was able to purchase the 2,200-acre tract, now the jewel at the center of a rare and extraordinary landscape.

For Nergart, Triple Falls isn’t just a vision to behold. It’s a vision of conservation that we can all embrace. “Some things are so gorgeous they have to be shared,” he says.

With degrees in forest management and natural resources management, Nergart knows firsthand the impacts that humans can have on our environment. Which is one reason why Triple Falls is so special to him. “It is in what I would call a ‘baseline state,’” he says. “What you’re getting when you look at Triple Falls is, in many ways, a precolonial view of the falls. And that’s because it’s being stewarded and cared for.”

Nergart credits DuPont State Recreational Forest Supervisor Jason Guidry and his team for balancing forest management with the protection of rare and endangered species and the needs of a range of visitors, including hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians, and anglers. The forest management team conducts prescribed burns, closes old trails that are quickly reclaimed by Mother Nature, and uses built features to guide the public while protecting the fragile environment. Their work helps ensure that future generations will continue to enjoy Triple Falls just as Nergart does.

How to see the natural world through the eyes of a conservationist:

Nergart recommends reading The Rise of the American Conservation Movement by Dr. Dorceta E. Taylor. “She takes a wide lens and does not shy from problematic elements of the movement,” he says.

Triple Falls under the starry night sky

Waterfalls — a source of endless inspiration for photographers — have become one of Tom Moors’s favorite subjects. He often looks for features that tell a story — like the view of the Milky Way that appears behind Triple Falls. photograph by Tom Moors

The Photographer

Tom Moor and his camera in front of Triple Falls

Tom Moors photograph by Tom Moors

Tom Moors remembers the moment he learned that there was more to photography than, well, meets the eye. He and his wife were planning a trip to Yosemite for their 10th anniversary, and he had purchased a camera with multiple lenses. “I was going to make great photographs like Ansel Adams,” Moors says, laughing. “When I got home, I looked at them and was like, ‘Why are these photos not so good?’”

Gifted with an analytical mind and a degree in engineering, Moors began to dig into how to really use a camera. Subjects. Light. Settings. Composition. Over time, his photography improved, and requests for his services began to come in through the social media accounts he set up to showcase his work. In 2014, he visited Triple Falls for the first time as a “real” photographer. “I was looking for something interesting,” he recalls. “And it’s right there in the name. Three waterfalls so close together. I was amazed.”

What makes the place special? “For me, it’s the depth,” Moors says. “The fact that you have a foreground, a middle ground, and a background. And there’s three different subjects. You can combine them in one photograph or shoot them individually.” When he looks at the three cascades zigzagging down the granite face, hemmed in by sentinels of hardwood and evergreen, he sees a veritable playground for photographers.

Moors makes a point of always trying to capture something new or different in his subjects — a feature that helps tell a story. That moment occurred at Triple Falls when he realized that the Milky Way was located directly behind the falls. After receiving a permit from DuPont, he shot the waterfall in the middle of the night, capturing the sublime beauty of the terrestrial and the extraterrestrial in one out-of-this-world image. For Moors, that photo tells the story of a nighttime adventure yielding a unique perspective that completely transforms the visual experience.

How to see the natural world through the eyes of a photographer:

Moors believes that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. “Analyze photographs that you like on Instagram, in books or magazines, or at art galleries, and ask yourself what it is that you like about the photograph and why,” he says. “Try to re-create photos you like [in order] to learn the skills it took to create them.” Most important: Moors recommends practicing regularly and learning the ins and outs of your gear. “As I found out, just buying an expensive camera and going to epic locations doesn’t instantly produce great results.”

Triple Falls
Hooker Falls Access Area, Staton Road
DuPont State Recreational Forest
Hendersonville, NC 28739
(828) 877-6527

This story was published on Apr 29, 2024

Brad Campbell

In addition to being a regular contributor to Our State, Brad Campbell is a storyteller and a winner of multiple Moth StorySLAM competitions.