May 01, 2008

Rocks and water, falling

Rush

Yesterday's field trip with my students began in the early morning with a flurry of frantic cell phone calls when the vehicle in which I was traveling got separated from the pack. It seems always that way: no matter which car I'm in, it's the one to get lost. The lead car had apparently decided to stop for gas and coffee, and no one in my car had noticed because we arguing over whether or not to listen to a Power Rangers tape. Students who are the mostly likely to have cars and volunteer to drive on field trips are almost always from out of town, which means they call roads and landmarks by their official names, which is very confusing to us locals. But thanks to modern technology, we didn't spend too much time needlessly circling about of Snowstorm City before getting on the highway.

The day ended with a hike to see the highest free-falling waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains. Yes, Hard-to-Pronounce Waterfall, which is what my students kept calling it, is even higher even than Famous Waterfall That Sounds Like a Spam Email, although the volume of the water is so much less that it is not nearly as famous. In fact, on a sunny, but chilly Wednesday afternoon, we were the only people on the trails and creekbed leading up to Not-Very-Famous-Waterfall.

The noise of the creek, rushing and crashing over rock, rippling in wide shallow pools, kept us company as we walked along. Even the most hyper of my students began walking slower, moods shifting, as the sound of the water soothed us.

We were walking through a glen with walls on either side that rose 400 feet to the sky. Mountain Climbing Woman kept saying to me, "Oh, this is such a great canyon, but you couldn't climb it. It would be too dangerous." Even as we walked, we could hear rocks pinging against hard surfaces as they fell. The canyon was formed when a creek eroded through about 400 feet of shale, depositing most of it near the lake, and debris continues to fall. Signs warn hikers to "Beware of falling rocks."

My students were quick to identify trees along the trail: hemlock, basswood, maple, oak, sycamore. Swishy Hair called me over to see some purple trillium. It's actually illegal to pick trillium in this state, because the three leaves just below the flower are the main food source for the plant, which means that a picked trillium will almost always die. When I was little, my mother used to always say that, and now my students tell me the same thing.

The creekbed on the way to Impressively Tall Waterfall is so broad that even in the spring, the water doesn't always cover it. Soon we'd left the trail to walk up the dry parts of the creekbed, a slippery limestone surface covered with wavy patterns. Acidic rain puddling on the creekbed has eroded the limestone so that the puddle indentations are permanent. And sand swirled by the current of the creek continues to carve out curving shapes.

My students kept pointing out things, from the swallows and hawks flying near the tops of the cliff to the slugs that Swishy Hair found under a rock. It's always great to take a walk with students who have been trained as naturalists. Our walk took us, eventually, into an ampitheatre carved by the 215-foot waterfall. The plunge pool below the waterfall is more than 30 feet deep, although the falling rocks would make it dangerous to swim in. Despite the chilly air, several students went up close to feel the spray of the waterfall against their faces. As we walked back, one student said to me, "It smells like summer."

In the mist

17 comments:

traveler one said...

I love that "Smells like summer"..mmmm my nose is always sniffing the air to find that scent!
Lovely waterfall... looks like a magical place.

KathyR said...

Very cool.

Even if it doesn't thunder like the big Spam Email Falls.

That blogname made me laugh.

listie said...

I love the walk back to the falls. I got caught in a thunderstorm back there last fall; it was awesome, with the thunder booming around the rock walls.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

Oh, these photos brought back a lot of memories.

How lucky you are to have a field trip like this as part of your job!

Sara said...

That's one of our favorite walks. Turns even the most determined anti-nature child (not mine! when we take their friends along!) into a labrador retriever, snuffling, rolling in the dirt, getting wet, chasing sticks.

Last spring when we went for our first walk up the gorge we were standing on the observation deck at trail end when we heard a huge crack and then a bunch of rock just pulverized into gravel and poured into the splash pool. I understand now why they say not to hang out at the base...

undine said...

Beautiful pictures. Is this really even taller than the spam-soundalike one?

jo(e) said...

Undine: Yep. It's 33 feet higher than the Famous Sounds Like Spam Falls.

Sara: Oh, I know what you mean. We were there on a cold day, but in warm weather, no kid (or grown-up, for that matter) can resist taking off socks and sneakers and wading in.

Gawdess said...

lovely pictures!
particularly love the one with the three looking like they are worshipping at the falling water.

kate5kiwis said...

smells like summer

hmmm, yes, it is smelling less and less like summer here.
but i am still wading in the surf, the kiddos are still swimming...
i cannot even say the word w*nter
X

hele said...

I would love to go to your university. Really, really. I've been saying to Flo lets move to jo(e)'s town for a couple of years so I can finish my studies there.

YourFireAnt said...

Hele:

Oh yes! Move to Jo(e)'s town. I could add you to my blogger life list.

FA

Jo(e): Spam Soundalike Falls? Now you've gone too far. ;-|

Jennifer said...

Hm, I am ignorant. Now I need to go find out what falls that is.

jo(e) said...

Jennifer: Just click on the photo to go to my Flickr account -- and you'll see the real name of the falls.

Rockycat said...

I love those falls! And I love that if you're feeling ambitious, you can do the gorge trails, but if not, or if it's a really hot day, you can just do the easy route.

BlackenedBoy said...

These photographs look like something out of a fantasy novel.

Jennifer said...

Aha. Thank you Jo(e)

Silver Creek Mom said...

Beautiful! Love it! I must come visit and see your area. Then you can see mine. ;)