Saturday, March 27, 2021

Kentucky Falls


It's not funny if you have to explain the punchline. As we were lacing up our boots at the Kentucky Falls Trailhead, I offered up the factoids that Kentucky Creek was flanked on either side by Roman Nose Mountain and Mount Popocat├ępetl, adding that the three place names were a geographic tribute to primitive cultures and incomprehensible dialects. What I got back, instead of wry chuckles, were perplexed looks and several earnest and sincere "Wow, really?" questions. My hiking companions got it when I, my voice laden and dripping with sarcasm, answered a question with a question "Have you ever spoken to anybody from Kentucky?" I may have lost my entire Kentuckian readership with that one but hey, it's probably only one guy anyway.

All life should be like a walk in the forest

Even though Kentucky Falls was the main reason for our outing, this hike was mostly all about the forest. The morning sunlight was slanting through a cathedral-like grove of tall trees arching overhead like so many ribs in a Gothic basilica. You couldn't help but tilt your head heavenward like an awestruck pilgrim entering Notre Dame (or any other cathedral of the era) for the first time. The green glow from the trees, ferns, and moss was pervasive and small thumb-sized birds made fist-sized twitterings as they scolded hikers celebrating a decidedly green spring day. Below all the tall trees and twittering mini-birds, tri-petaled trillium flowers added their own special grace and elegance to the reverential scene.

A small but boisterous piece of Kentucky Creek

We were hiking nearly at the bottom of a canyon carved over the epochs by Kentucky Creek. When not in a truly sublime forest, we found ourselves hiking on a trail etched onto exposed cliff faces, all colored green by the ever ubiquitous moss. Initially, the stream pleasantly coursed through the trees before picking up speed. In a practice run for the big leap at Upper Kentucky Falls, the creek jumped off several ten-foot ledges, each a worthy cascade in its own right. And speaking of big leaps, I didn't do any. Eventually, Upper Kentucky Falls hove into view as the path switchbacked down to the waterfall's splash basin.

In all its Kentuckian glory

Roughly about 100 feet tall, Upper Kentucky Falls was carrying a large volume of water, seeing how Kentucky Creek was swollen with spring runoff. The sound of the falls echoed throughout and we all stopped to contemplatively admire the picturesque cascade roaring in the shady canyon. Here on the west side of the distant Cascades Mountain Range, waterfalls are about as rare as a mosquito in late July, which is to say they are not rare at all. But even so, Kentucky Falls is arguably one of the better ones.

Moss rules this forest

After the requisite Upper Kentucky Falls view-soak and photo-op combo, it was more of the same as the trail continued to descend down toward the confluence of Kentucky Creek and the North Fork Smith River, our intended turnaround point. The forest was still eminently sublime, the morning light remained poetic, and the trail was flanked with elegant and graceful pale white trillium flowers to go along with yellow woodland violets, and white-to-pinkish oaks toothwort blooms. All of the floral colorations were but mere specks against a green backdrop of either moss, ferns, or salal.

Bird's nest fungi, en masse

Roughly halfway between the upper and lower falls, the trail crossed over a small creek via a rustic wooden bridge covered with bird's nest fungus. Generally seen on the ground or on decaying twigs, these tiny fungi are actually shaped like a bird's nest, sometimes containing small brown "eggs" which actually are spore capsules. 
Because of their small size, these fungus are not readily spotted when we hike by them, but the bridge here was absolutely covered with the diminutive fungi and much macro-lens photography ensued.

A beetle takes a pollen bath

About a mile below the upper falls, Kentucky Creek drops off another rocky ledge at Lower Kentucky Falls, made further notable that the lower falls and North Fork Smith River Falls tumble side-by-side over the same ledge. The scene is epic and I had every intention of hiking down there until a large chest-high log blocked the way with no means of bushwhacking around it, seeing as how it was sited on a steep near-vertical slope, and at right angles to the trail. The idea of swinging my leg and fresh hernia surgery incisions over that daunting obstacle made my "little boys" crawl back up into my abdomen in cold dread, so uncharacteristically I did the right thing and called my hike over at that point, darn hernia anyway.

Rustic footbridge over a small creek

This would be the last hike under the stultifying restrictions of the surgeon's dictates. After today, me and the boys are free to hike as we see fit, although I've been warned to listen to my body which doesn't really work, because so much of hiking is ignoring what your body tells you anyway. So, while my legs felt a little unfulfilled, I still wound up following the doctor's orders without really meaning to, thanks to a wayward log. 


For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.


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