There are few things as dramatic as the roar of falling water.
When I headed out the door in the morning, it was to surf, not hike. The surf forecast looked good, and we headed out to the coast. The surf report was wildly optimistic though, and the surf was tiny at best. What started as a surf day turned into a “Daisy day.” A “Daisy day” is when we get to spend the entire day with our dog (Daisy) and bring her along for special adventures. Daisy is our ever faithful companion, and features prominently in the TahoeSux blog. Thwarted on surfing, Daisy and I played on the beach and checked off important dog activities: digging holes, rolling, playing chase, walk and smell, etc.
Then we headed out to Alpine Dam for one of our favorite “off trail” hikes. Following creeks and streams often leads to great discoveries in your own backyard: cascading pools, hidden waterfalls, secret swimming holes, and stunning outdoor scenes. We love to explore and get off the beaten path. Although it was foggy on the coast, the temperature was above 80F just a few miles inland. Daisy was thrilled to get her feet wet and cool off in the shelter of the canyon.
Some days you hit the lighting just right. When we followed the creek down the canyon, the sun was nearly overhead and shafts of light penetrated through the foliage. We stopped to check out the remains of an old dam. All that remains are its hand laid rock walls and some crumbling mortar. A century ago, there was a cattle ranch in the valley above this creek. This old dam was probably used as a cattle pond for the ranch. History doesn’t always have to be nationally significant. I love musing the mystery of often overlooked local history. Who were the people who built this dam by hand and created a small lake in this canyon?
Because of its steep walls, this canyon is very sheltered from direct sunlight. It also is frequently in the “fog belt” along the California Coast (summer coastal fog is a regular occurrence here). These things keep it cool and moist, and are particularly good environment for moss and ferns. Close to the creek, almost every surface is covered with bright green moss. Later, during our dry California summer, the moss will turn more brown- till the rains come again.
Daisy and I followed the creek downstream, sometimes scrambling over rocks, up and down steep slopes, and through stands of wild huckleberries.
Much of the California coast was logged of its redwoods in the 1800s. Sometimes the remnants of old growth forest are visible in the form of giant stumps, and old logging road cuts. Daisy found this old redwood tree bearing the scars of fire from decades past. I believe these are fire scars from “the Great Fire” of 1929. In 1929, a fire burned much of the town of Mill Valley and the vegetation on Mt. Tamalpais. Here, in Mt. Tam’s Northern valleys, some of the fire scars are still visible.
I also snapped a picture of a fallen tanoak. On the log are the black spores associated with “Phytophthora ramorum,” or Sudden Oak Death. Sudden Oak Death is wiping out many trees in Northern California. Tanoaks are particularly susceptible, and large swaths are dead and dying.
After crashing through the brush, we found a beautiful rock outcropping covered with verdant moss. Just upstream the water rushed through a narrow inlet. Here, the water slowed, and eddied out into gentle shallow pools contained by rock walls 10-20 feet tall.
We hiked and played before heading back upstream to the dam and making our way home. During abnormally wet winters, I have seen nearly all the overflow gates open, and water blasting through the dam with a deafening roar.
We didn’t find any large waterfalls; instead we found more than a dozen small ones. Despite the lousy surf, it was a great day to be out. The message that I repeat over and over in the TahoeSux blog is to get outside and create your own adventures. This particular hike is not on any established trail, yet it is less than 1/2 mile from an extremely popular hiking trail. Just up the road, the trail is packed with hikers on weekends. Here, we saw no one. Great adventures are waiting for you in your own backyard…
This is the fourth post we’ve done on waterfalls. If you enjoyed this post, check out the other ones.
In Search of Hidden Waterfalls and Wildflowers
In Search of Hidden Waterfalls- Dawn Falls
The Simple Joy of Running in the Rain (Waterfalls Ahead)
There are several more posts on hikes and hidden waterfalls scheduled for publication in the coming months. Thanks for reading.