Thursday, April 25, 2019

My favorite waterfall is hard to reach, so I've only had to share it with my dog

Spring is a great time to visit waterfalls, so I recently made the long trek to my favorite one. And for the third time in a row, the only other soul I had to share the experience with was my dog.

That was cool.

Being able to soak in all that cascading water for as long as I want without mobs of selfie-takers waiting (or often not waiting) their turn is the main reason why that waterfall has become my favorite.

I also love that you have to WORK to reach it. You need to hike about 4.5 miles from the parking lot at the Valley View Trailhead to see the waterfall. And about half of that distance is uphill, including a mile of full-on, legs-and-lungs-burning uphill that always has me asking, "When is this going to stop?!"

But once you emerge from the trees and reach the top of the ridge, you're rewarded with sweeping views on either side, the Ukiah Valley on your right and the Mayacamas Mountains on your left. If the pond on the right is full and you've also brought your dog, they can take a dip while you enjoy the wildflowers, bees and butterflies until you see a bench and should begin looking for a trail heading left.

There's no sign marking this trail, just the sound of rushing water leading you into a canyon that turns cooler and greener with every step, always making me feel as if I've stumbled upon a secret world. Only once you reach the creek do you find a sign announcing that you're now on the Mayacamas Trail, and walked 3.7 miles from your car at Mill Creek County Park. Turn left again to head to the waterfall.

This board was the only evidence that others walked to the waterfall recently.
I know sharing the waterfall's existence here might lead more people to check it out, but I've written about it multiple times in the Ukiah newspaper I write for and still the crowds leave it alone.

It might be because the waterfall doesn't have a name, so it can't easily be listed on a Top Ten list or even a map, and there aren't any signs on the trail telling you that the waterfall exists or how to find it. So unless you already know where it is or get horribly lost, you're not going to reach it.

It might be because I've always hiked to it on a weekday, but that doesn't seem to make a difference for other waterfalls, especially those near the Mendocino Coast. When I hiked to another waterfall in a forest after driving several miles on a very sketchy dirt road off Highway 20 in the middle of a non-holiday Monday, I found two men perched in front of the water with tripods who had driven all the way from Tennessee to take pictures of it. Why? Because that waterfall has a name, it's much closer to the coast, and it's included in many lists of the best waterfalls in Northern California.

This waterfall also might not draw the crowds because Ukiah doesn't have quite enough to attract people from The Bay Area to drive up here for the weekend or even a day (other than another green plant that doesn't grow near waterfalls, of course.) But this waterfall doesn't even seem to attract people who live closer.

That might be because locals know Cow Mountain is full of ticks. I always find at least one crawling on me if not attached to my stomach, and my dog never leaves that trail without DOZENS of them on her. After one visit I took off more than 40.

Or they might know that much of the year the trail is very hot, and you have to carry a lot of water for you and your dog if the seasonal streams have dried up.

Or they might know that there's a gun range at the top of Cow Mountain, and often you can not only hear the gunshots echoing off the mountain, you'll swear sometimes you can feel bullets whizzing by. Because of that, I don't recommend using the trail on the weekends or holidays with clear weather until the summer heat has settled in and the gun range has been closed due to fire danger.

Have I dissuaded you yet? Good. If not, here is how to get there:

The Valley View Trail is reached by a short drive from Ukiah beginning east on Talmage Road, taking a right on Old River Road and then a left on Mill Creek Road. After passing the ponds, you will come to a trail sign on the left and parking on the right near a port-a-potty.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

For my Sweet Sixteen, my mom couldn’t bake me a cake. So my best friend did.

For my sixteenth birthday, my friend Mechele baked me a cake and snuck it into my house (which was easy because we never locked the front door). So I woke up that morning to find a frosted cake sitting on the kitchen counter. Next to her note she even left me matches for the candles.

That was cool. 

Living in the same town again after I graduated college.
Especially since a few months earlier my mother had died, so this was the first birthday morning I didn't jump out of bed. Knowing my father didn't care to celebrate birthdays, I wasn't sure there was anything worth jumping out of bed for.

But Mechele made sure there was. And though she couldn't spend the day with me, she made it a very Sweet Sixteen.

For another birthday about 10 years later she played Mom again when I was living in Chile. She sent me a care package with books, treats and something only Mechele would think to mail me. After I told her I was spending a lot of time with a sexy Australian guy and could not find a store that sold contraceptives, Mechele sent me condoms that made another birthday celebration possible. 

A few years after that, she sent me another Mom-style gift I still have. When I moved to Seattle and told her how many sweaters and long johns I was buying to adjust to the cold, she sent me a care package with a cozy and colorful blanket she knitted.

Today, that afghan lies on my bed and Mechele still sends me packages of things I "need," which these days is nothing more than a box of salted caramels. But next time I need something more important, I know Mechele will put it in the mail for me.