Well, we found the falls! And went swimming at the top of them! And I couldn't seem to tear myself away from them until after sunset, so we ended up hiking the 2.5 mile return trip in darkness, with a hundred thousand stars shining overhead and a tiny flashlight in my hand. But it was a delightful birthday trip!
Since the hike to the falls begins at the spot in Dry Creek where I normally swim, I also thought this would be a good opportunity to photograph the beauty of that spot for you. However, my plans in that regard were derailed by the fact that there were two men swimming there when I arrived. In the spot where no one but me ever swims! Anyway, I didn't want to be the creepy stranger who started taking pictures of the spot where they were swimming. From the bridge above them, I did take two pictures of the opposite side of the bridge from the side they were on; I swim on both sides of the bridge, so this is part of the area I like to swim in. I would be able to give a better impression of it, though, if I were down at ground level, where I didn't feel free to go because of the men swimming there.
Here's a slightly different view of the same area.
Then Boston and I started our hike. It's 4.9 miles round-trip, with the trip to the falls being a tenth of a mile shorter than the return trip, if you follow the loop in the direction that I did. Most of the trail is very wide, and the signs posted along the way give very clear directions. The landscape generally looks like this.
I paused along the way to photograph this patch of narrowleaf milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis) because it's the largest such patch I've ever seen. This is a plant I grow in my garden at home. It's not spectacular to look at, as you can see, but it attracts a lot of spectacular wildlife - including, most famously, Monarch butterflies, which require milkweed plants to reproduce, and which reproduce most successfully with the locally native species of milkweed, because non-native species of milkweed may bloom at a different time of year and provoke the Monarchs to lay eggs at disadvantageous times. Also, Monarchs rely on chemicals in the milkweed to make them unpalatable to predators, and non-native species of milkweed may not do the job effectively for the native predators in a given location.
On the path to the falls I passed one couple with their dog who were heading home, and upon arriving at the falls I saw a younger couple in the creek below the falls. Those were the only people besides me who seemed to be visiting the falls that day. It was a long hike, and it was 102° F (38° C). I had three liters of water on my back but was worried about Boston because the path to the falls didn't follow the creek as I had thought it would, so she didn't have access to water. I ended up creating a shallow makeshift water bowl for her with a bit of plastic and squirting some of my own water into it.
After 1.5 miles, the trail splits, and a sign indicates that the left fork is an 0.9-mile trail to Upper Fairy Falls, while the right fork is a 1.0-mile trail past Lower Fairy Falls to Upper Fairy Falls. Boston and I took the left fork. And 0.9 miles later, we found the falls!
A chain-link fence borders the cliffs overlooking the falls. There's also a large cross commemorating someone who fell over the edge and died at the falls.
Although this is Upper Fairy Falls, from some angles you can see a tiny additional waterfall above the main falls.
I started following the path alongside the chain-link fence toward the bottom of the falls, but the chain-link fence ended and the path narrowed and increased in steepness to the point that I was pretty sure that attempting to navigate it while weighed down with three liters of water and the lopsided, anxiety-inducing weight of my very expensive camera swinging from a shoulder strap would have been suicidal. There may have been an easier path down there from some other spot, but since there was a couple already down there (you can see their belongings strewn on the rocks if you look closely) I decided to just leave this area to them.
First, though, I took a zoomed-in picture of the patch of vegetation visible in the photo above. This is all the same stuff that grows in my usual swimming spot, so perhaps this picture can give you some sense of the idyllic beauty of the place. Great billowing grasses all over the place!
Having given up on reaching the creek below the falls, I focused on reaching the creek above the falls instead. The path here was also steep enough to be intimidating to me when I was weighed down by lopsided and expensive luggage. I didn't manage to capture the steepness with my camera, but it was plenty steep. Still, I felt better able to attempt this path than the other one. I just had to do a lot of sitting on the ground with each step I took as I slowly made my way down.
Boston waited patiently below for me to finish descending.
Once I was safely down the slope, she ran ahead of me and jumped into the water.
And after stripping off my hiking boots and the skirt and shirt I'd been wearing over my swimsuit, and then putting on water shoes, I got in along with her. And also, obviously, set my camera up on the shore. This was entirely spontaneous; I just figured that since my camera was going to be perched on the rocks above the water in any case - there being noplace else to put it - I might as well actually use it. And as I wandered upstream, I brought it with me, figuring that if I left it behind I'd have to worry about both theft and it being knocked into the water, whereas if I brought it with me at least I'd only have to worry about one of those things. Though I'm sure the risk of it being knocked into the water was increased by the fact that Boston and I were both near it. Oh well: I managed to keep it safely out of the water the whole time.
I was trying to be as careful as I possibly could with it, so I mostly got out of the water whenever I needed to move it. And I sought out places to put it where Boston wouldn't be able to reach it and accidentally knock it over.
Boston wanted me to throw rocks into the water for her to chase. She always wants this, whenever I take her somewhere where there are rocks and water. So I threw some. Then I paused to take pictures of her.
This is her "Please stop fiddling with the stupid camera and throw some more rocks for me" face.
I threw some more rocks.
Then we continued upstream.
There were many large boulders under the water
I tried to get Boston to pose with me, but she was not especially comfortable posing while swimming.
She was much happier to pose on the shore. Not sure why I didn't try posing on the shore with her, other than just the fact that I already have tons of pictures of her and me together on dry land elsewhere, so immersion in water was the novelty I was focused on.
Well, and she wasn't much into staying in any one place for long that day. The shore shown below is the same bit of shore as above, but when I tried to get into the same picture as her, she moved out of the frame.
Please do note the gorgeous plants everywhere. They have everything to do with my love of the place.
It started getting dark, but I couldn't bring myself to leave. I was just so very delighted to be where I was, celebrating my 39th birthday in the creek at the top of Fairy Falls.
It was 8:45 p.m. when I finally got out of the water. Boston ran ahead of me again and waited for me on the shore where I'd left my stuff. (That's my red shirt and blue skirt on the rocks near her.)
When we started hiking back, it almost immediately became so dark that it was hard to even see the trail anymore. I had intended to retrace my steps on the same path I'd come in on, but I soon became aware that I'd accidentally taken an unfamiliar path instead. Rather a disconcerting discovery to make when wandering in a wilderness area after dark. Being there after dark at all was not really the plan; darkness is when the mountain lions emerge, and it's not a great idea to be there then. But I'd stayed too long an no longer had a choice. Well, they say that if confronted by a mountain lion you should make yourself look big, and I figured that at least my ankle-length full skirt would be useful for doing that. I'd also had the foresight to bring a tiny LED flashlight with me, just in case, so that was also some degree of help. Mostly, though, I just relied on what I'd read about the trail in advance: I knew it made a loop, and I was pretty sure I'd inadvertently just continued on the loop rather than retracting my steps, and I also knew that this would only add a tenth of a mile to the hike. In any case, wherever I was, I was on a very wide trail that therefore presumably led to somewhere important, and since the only hugely important spots in Spenceville State Wildlife Area are the falls and the parking lot, and I knew I was heading away from the falls, I was pretty sure the trail must lead to the parking lot. Also, the trail was following the creek, which suggested it was the trail leading past Lower Fairy Falls. I never did actually see Lower Fairy Falls, since it was so dark, but I must have passed it somewhere along the way. After a mile, the trail did indeed converge with the one I was familiar with, and once again I knew where I was and knew I was going in the right direction. More and more stars showed up in the sky overhead. It's interesting how adding far more stars than are usually visible from in town doesn't make the familiar constellations disappear; somehow they remain always easy to pick out.
When we eventually made it back to the parking lot, I was surprised to find that we weren't actually the last to leave that night. A large group of people had been swimming in the popular swimming hole next to the parking lot and were just getting ready to leave at the same time that I was. I was exhausted, and my right little toe was blistered, and although I'd brought blister bandages with me and applied one to my toe after I finished swimming, the friction on the return hike had actually worn a hole through the bandage. Not great, especially considering that I was going to be spending all the following day walking around the California State Fair with my parents, with that blister on my toe. But I rebandaged it, and although the bandage didn't work much better today than it did yesterday . . . well, that's life. Sometimes toes blister and bandages fail and you walk around in pain all day. I'm still totally delighted with my birthday hike and swim.