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at the falls

It's, Um Big

Waterfalls & Crater Lake

We are walking toward a waterfall. We've only seen one tiny marker sign directing us off the highway and are not certain how far it is and don’t even know if this is a real trail. It’s more like a forgotten road overgrown with weeds. A man and a woman walk toward us and this gives us confidence that we’re headed somewhere with a destination. My friend Ru asks if this is the way to the waterfalls. They say yes.

“How is it?” Ru asks.

They look at each other and the man says, “Big.”

Wow, what a description. We speed up our pace. About 50 yards down the road we find the real trail leading into an old growth stand. We follow the path with glimpses now and then of the river and soon hear the roar of what must be the big waterfall. The noise gets louder and a hurricane fence appears at our side to keep us from careening into what has suddenly become a granite gorge with the river far below. We turn a corner, the noise thunderous now, and are stunned to see, behind us, a massive two-tiered waterfall roaring off the cliff and plummeting some 40 feet into a pool before it drops yet again 80 feet to the river below. That man was right. It is big.

Ru and I are on our way to Crater Lake along the North Umpqua River and at the suggestion of Jim and Sharon, the innkeepers at Steamboat Inn, we’re taking the time to explore some of the waterfalls along the way. We are glad that they insisted because from the highway the forested landscape doesn’t appear to hold these spectacular hidden secrets. We are unfamiliar with the Umpqua National Forest and are thrilled to find these treasures – Toketee, Whitehorse, Watson, Clearwater – only a few of the falls found here plunging into gorgeous ravines, cascading over rocky mossy outcroppings, spilling into exquisite pools.

After visiting several waterfalls, we are anxious to get to Crater Lake, but I lobby for going on one more side trip now that we've passed into the Upper Rogue River watershed. I see on the map, near the town of Prospect, something called the Avenue of the Boulders. Since we have to use the south entrance to Crater Lake anyway because of the late season July snow pack, I can’t bear to overlook a site with a name like that, even though it is mid-afternoon and hot. Borderline really hot.

Ru reluctantly agrees and we hike along a wide highway-like chipped bark trail that seems a desecration in the madrone woods. We can see where the trees and undergrowth have been chopped down and mauled in order to put in the trail, which now has no shade but presumably will have in a future decade. We plod along this un-nature trail and see three boys who are the advance party to mom, dad and little sister, walking toward us. As per usual, Ru asks if this is the way to the Avenue of the Boulders, which we know it is because there are giant signs along the trail guiding us thus. They say it is.

And then, “How is it?” Ru asks.

The boys look at each other and shrug. “Big,” they offer.

“Wow,” we say, and trek on.

Big does not describe it. Yet, big does describe it too. These granite boulders are as huge as houses, tumbled from some ancient cataclysm, trapped in a narrow ravine. We wander in and out and up on top of the giant rocks, worn smooth by the river. It is fantastic and overwhelming and a little unnerving with warning signs everywhere about the river levels changing rapidly. There is supposedly a whistle warning if flash floods are apparent. We aren’t really worried in this mid-summer heat, but we do listen.

Since we’re here and too hot to live anyway, we decide we might as well drag ourselves on to the next site on the un-nature trail: Mill and Barr Creek falls. We’re almost there when we see two guys hiking toward us. You guess the routine: Ru asks how the waterfall is. I’m thinking “big,” and one of them says, “Fantastic. Drop dead beautiful.”

“You won’t believe it,” the other guy says. “It’s worth the hike.”

Naturally, we’re a little wary. We plod on along the scorching trail. I remind Ru that we must look for ticks if we survive.

We finally find our quarry. We stand on a bluff overlooking the river valley now far below and see Mill Creek Falls, this beauty, cascading 174 feet straight off the bluff opposite. It is the perfect fantasy fairy-tale waterfall with mist-generated rainbows intersecting it. Barr Creek Falls, nearby, seems a bit smaller and is merely stupendous.

Finally, we are at Crater Lake. We stand at the caldera rim watching the sun set. Filmy ribbons of gold and pink, mauve, periwinkle and purple stretch across the deep blue sky. The lake sits navy blue serene and exquisite. It is quiet. We are speechless. We cannot even say wow, this place is big.

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