CANYON VILLAGE—Photographer Kenneth Keifer nearly missed both shots.
But persistence paid off and serendipity kissed the Mooresville, Indiana resident, enabling him to get stunning photographs of two landmark waterfalls. His pictures of the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River in Yellowstone National Park and Harrison Wright Falls in Ricketts Glen State Park, Pennsylvania, appear on two new U.S. Postal Service stamps.
Sixteen years ago, Keifer visited Yellowstone bent on capturing the Lower Falls from Artist’s Point only to be stymied. Maintenance work had closed the classic vantage on the south rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Keifer could only shoot from the north side.
Nevertheless, he went out one morning and found a rainbow in the fall’s mist.
Despite the controls landscape photographers use in constructing an image — shutter speed, depth of field, composition — “someone else is in charge of the lighting,” Keifer said at a Tuesday ceremony in Yellowstone marking his stamps’ first day of issue.
Keifer almost never got to Harrison Wright Falls to make his long-exposure photograph that renders the drop as a gossamer veil in the other stamp. On a trail to a series of cascades in the Pennsylvania park and wary of the waning daylight, he considered skipping the side-trip to Harrison Wright.
“Just one more,” he told himself, and turned off the main trail.
The clean dozen
Keifer’s images are among 12 that grace the waterfalls stamp collection. There are about a dozen different types of waterfalls, Michael Elston, secretary of the Board of Governors of the U.S. Postal Service, said at the ceremony.
Those include the plunge, cascade, fan and cataract. Each also creates one of nature’s symphonies, Elston said.
The Lower Falls, a cataract, drops 308 feet — farther than Niagara Falls. Sixty-three thousand gallons of water pour over its brink of erosion-resistant welded tuff every second.
The spectacle inspired landscape artist Thomas Moran, who painted his 7-foot by 12-foot oil-on-canvas drama “Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.” The painting was instrumental in convincing Congress to establish Yellowstone as a national park in 1872.
The Lower Falls is part of the course of the longest un-dammed river in the U.S. said Carol Quinn, a park ranger. There are close to 300 falls in Yellowstone, according to one count.
All are part of 2,500 miles of running water in the park, a liquid ecosystem that includes some 600 water bodies, Quinn said. The puddles, pools and ponds slake the thirst of every species in the park and provide water downstream to the Gulf of Mexico and Pacific Ocean.
Last summer Yellowstone’s water got out of hand, flooding northern sections of the park, ripping out roads and forcing authorities to evacuate the reserve. Park crews and their partners ushered 12,000 visitors safely out of Yellowstone a year ago, Park Superintendent Cam Sholly said.
Within eight days, the southern part of Yellowstone reopened. Most of the rest became accessible again in 20 days.
Even though the usual routes were cut off, “we still needed to get mail to people,” Sholly said as he awarded the Superintendent’s Medallion for exemplary service and support to Yellowstone Postmaster Floyd Wagoner in recognition of last year’s work.
Whether you get your letters delivered by a Newman or a Clifford C. Clavin, Jr., there’s something reassuring about seeing a letter carrier making the appointed rounds.
Following a disaster, it’s “the first sign of normalcy,” Secretary Elston said.
“Who hasn’t felt vertigo when mesmerized at the brink of a waterfall?” asked Len Carlman, a self-described river rat and conservationist who led the first-day-of-issue ceremonies at Canyon Village on Tuesday. He called the brink of the Lower Falls “one of the great spots on the face of the Earth.”
Yet at the bottom of the cataract there’s a fairy-scape of mist — “frothy water and champagne bubbles,” he said. He quoted Yellowstone’s first civilian superintendent Nathaniel P. Langford, who was awed at the sight of the Lower Falls.
“I realized my own littleness,” Langford wrote, “my helplessness, my dread exposure to destruction, my inability to cope with or even comprehend the mighty architecture of nature.”
“These stamps and these waterfalls make our lives better,” Carlman said. Philatelists can find photos and descriptions of the other stamps in a news release at the USPS website.