May 01, 2008
Rocks and water, falling
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."
Posted by jo(e)