Great Falls on Sunday afternoon. (Kevin Ambrose)

I checked the temperature at Washington Dulles International Airport early Sunday morning and it was minus-1.  Yikes, I thought, as I gathered my camera gear. Then I quickly decided that my photo shoot could wait for the late afternoon. Brr.

When I left my house just before 3 p.m., my car thermometer read 23 degrees — quite balmy compared with the morning’s low of minus-1, I laughed.

Normally, I’d cringe at a temperature in the low 20s for a photo shoot, but after the frigid weather of the past week, with some of the crazy wind chills we’ve experienced, the weather Sunday afternoon really didn’t seem too bad.

This 24-second video clip shows close-up views of the ice on Great Falls. (Kevin Ambrose)

My plan was to visit Great Falls Park and Riverbend Park and to shoot photos of the river’s ice before the sun’s light faded. I had less than two hours to take the photos, but that was plenty of time.

Great Falls Park was surprisingly crowded Sunday afternoon. There was a steady stream of cars entering and exiting the park on the Virginia side, and the overlooks on both the Virginia and Maryland sides of the river were full of people.


The sycamore trees along the bank of the Potomac River across from Riverbend Park have a golden glow from the light of the setting sun. (Kevin Ambrose)

The overlooks — the platforms for viewing the falls — were bustling with people trying to position themselves for the best view. The scene reminded me of the crowds one will often encounter at Great Falls after a good flood. People like to see the Potomac frozen or flooded. It’s an uncommon occurrence.

I waited my turn for a prime viewing location on Overlook 1. When the spot opened up, I shot some photos and recorded a few video clips as shadows were rapidly spreading over the falls with the afternoon’s fading light.

The falls were quite beautiful with massive icicles frozen to the rocks. A few of the smaller flows appeared to be completely frozen. And below the falls, small blocks of ice floated in the eddies.


A wide-angle view of Great Falls on Sunday afternoon. (Kevin Ambrose)

I returned to the car for a drive to Riverbend Park, a short distance upstream from Great Falls. The time was 4:15 p.m., and there was about an hour of daylight left. But, more important, 5:30 p.m. was the time the gates closed at Riverbend and I didn’t want to get locked in the park.

When I arrived, the light of the setting sun cast a beautiful golden glow on the sycamore trees that lined the bank of the Potomac on the Maryland side. The golden trees set against the blue and white river ice was a wonderful sight to behold and to photograph.

Riverbend Park is where I fish for smallmouth bass in the spring and summer, and the scene at the park on Sunday afternoon was almost unrecognizable from my memories of fishing trips. The large, prominent rocks were my only visual cues that it was the same stretch of river.


The Potomac River was completely covered by ice and snow at Riverbend Park on Sunday afternoon. (Kevin Ambrose)

As I photographed along the riverbank, another photographer pointed out a bald eagle’s nest located on an island not far from where the nature trail intersects the Potomac Heritage Trail, a short walk upstream from the Riverbend visitor center. An eagle was perched on a tree near the nest.

The eagles weren’t active, unfortunately, but I have included a photo of the nest and the eagle at the bottom of the post. I’ll remember the nest for springtime photography missions.

Looking ahead, if we have a big thaw later this week and the ice breaks up quickly, I’ll return to photograph the ice floes. Ice floes are possible if the temperature rises rapidly above 50 or 60 degrees, or if we have a big rainstorm. We’ll have to wait and see.


Great Falls on Sunday afternoon. (Kevin Ambrose)

There is no boating at Riverbend Park until further notice. (Kevin Ambrose)

Great Falls on Sunday afternoon. (Kevin Ambrose)

A wide view of the Potomac River at Riverbend Park. (Kevin Ambrose)

Great Falls on Sunday afternoon. (Kevin Ambrose)

A bald eagle’s nest and eagle (inset) are visible in a sycamore tree in Riverbend Park. The nest is on an island upstream from the visitor’s center and can be viewed from the riverbank near the intersection of the nature trail and the Potomac Heritage Trail. (Kevin Ambrose)