…sometimes you realise you’ve been missing the best part all along. That happened to me on my recent trip to the Jura mountains. It was a three-centre break, two nights each in Champagnole, Lons-le-Saunier and the Swiss town of La Chaux-de-Fonds, with the intention of revisiting a number of familiar locations as well as finding some new ones. In last week’s entry, I wrote about my trip to the unspoilt (not to say ‘impenetrable’) Gorge de la Sirène. For this week’s post I have re-located to the western side of the Jura for a series of intensive sessions in the Reculée de Baumes-les-Messieurs. Well, at least it wasn’t quite planned that way. It was going to be a quick visit to what I thought, from my previous four or five visits, to be the main points of interest – the spectacular tufa cascade and the river that flows over it. I thought I might even squeeze in a tour of the show-cave, from which the river Dard emerges in an impressive horsetail spout, as it might fill an otherwise dull afternoon of unphotogenic harsh sunlight. But there was also the faintest suspicion that there was more to the site than I first thought. One of my contacts on Flickr, who lives a fair bit closer to this spot than I do, had posted pictures of part of the reculée that I didn’t immediately recognise. My first reaction was that this was from much further down the valley so I thought I’d start at the top and work down. As things turned out, I didn’t have to go very far…
It was my first ‘transition day’, making the short hop from Champagnole to Lons, and, as I wasn’t planning any serious photography, I stopped at the large carpark adjacent to the cascade in the mid-afternoon sunlight and immediately went for a recce without a camera. I reminded myself of the usual sights, scoped out a couple of new angles and then headed back to the car. That’s when I saw a little path beckoning. It wasn’t signed and it disappeared into an area of woodland after 50 metres or so in a very unassuming way. Since it was my aim this time to thoroughly explore the site, I set off down the path. And that’s when I realised that what I had been photographing previously, thinking it was the main event, was really just a sideshow. This previously unknown (to me, at least!) area of tufa cascades was so much larger than the easily-seen part that clichés involving icebergs and their tips came to mind. Anyway, I got back to the car, drove to Lons, checked in to my hotel and then decided to forego the delights of eating out in France for a couple of hastily gobbled sarnies so that I could return when the sun had retreated beyond the lip of the limestone reculée, leaving the valley floor in shade.
As it happened, I got waylaid by a small area of woodland on the rim of the valley where some loggers had been working to prune and coppice the trees. The clipped branches had been left on the ground, forming intriguing heaps which begged to be explored further. Unfortunately, my single image of this woodland turned out to be an unmitigated disaster and has since been cast into the Pit of Abject Failure (‘POAF’ for short or ‘rubbish bin’, as it’s more usually known), never to see the light of day again. C’est la vie, as the locals might say with a shrug, if they really did all wear striped shirts and black berets, that is.
Getting up at dawn the next day, I returned to the spot I’d been hoping to visit the previous evening. I put on my waders, selected my heavy large-format pack and set off. The waders were a boon, allowing me to wander around the tufa without worrying about getting wet feet and legs but I quickly discovered that finding viable compositions would be hard work. My first effort turned out to be OK but unexciting. Then followed two abandoned attempts to make something of the chaos of deposited calciferous minerals. Finally, at the bottom of the formation, perilously close to a pool so deep it contained a bizarrely calcified steel ladder as an aid to bathers trying to get in and out, I found this composition:
Although I struggled with it long and hard, I’m still not entirely convinced I nailed it. There’s something slightly unbalanced about the foreground rock… Well, I just had to return.
During the day, I made a side-trip to see the Source du Lison – another river which flows fully-formed from a cave, as they tend to do in this part of the world – as well as a few other choice spots and then returned to the reculée in time for a mid-afternoon coffee and glace at the nearby restaurant (landscape photography can be so tough sometimes) and another recce, this time with my trusty Panasonic LX3. After waiting for the sun to clear off out of it, I once again pulled out my large-format kit and set off for the large area of tufa in the woods. I made three images, one of which was consigned to the previously mentioned POAF, one quite acceptable and the last… well, the last one I think I finally nailed. Job done!