September 6, 2016

Clear Creek Falls & Night One

Sweat was sliding down the nape of my neck when he brought a fan to me in the kitchen as I washed our cookware before we put it back into our car camping tub. "Welcome back to Arkansas," he said with a smirk.

It was truly a polar opposite - I recently read a blog where someone mentioned the humidity of a NYC summer and literally laughed out loud. You don't know humid 'less you've lived in the south at the end of July in the midst of all this global warming business. I had been utterly unprepared for Colorado - I'd optimistically packed a rain jacket along with my shorts and t-shirt and sandal-type attire. I had no idea how badly I'd want for flannel and long johns in the mornings and evenings.

But we made it! I had been more than prepared to pull my fair share of the load until I stepped outside the Jeep and felt the goose bumps prick up all over my skin. "What is this madness? It's the still end of summer!" In my defense, he very much likes things done his way, because even when I did help he often told me not to or assigned me a job he was less picky about, so that takes away a small pocket of guilt.

In addition to their summers being freakishly chilly lest the sun be high in the sky (can't imagine their winters), we also learned that even the smallest tasks (like walking down to a fine bathroom bush) made us feel really out of shape (not that we aren't). While Northwest Arkansas might be a little higher, the mean elevation in Arkansas is only 650 feet to Colorado's 6,800 - making the latter #1 for highest (average) elevation in the U.S. - no surprise there, with all those Rockies. That altitude significantly impacts oxygen levels for people who aren't acclimated to it - he originally wanted us to do a 7 or 8 mile hike around a lake on Sunday... but after seeing how laborious every other minute task was, decided against it.

But I guess I should start from the beginning.
Early Friday morning (but never as early as we'd like) we left our little town of Fayetteville, Arkansas while it was still dark, but before we stopped for ice & gas in Tontitown, the red glow began to grow on the east horizon. Within minutes, dawn broke. How quickly that can happen.

I'd never before seen a "pilot car" before - what's that all about, Oklahoma? Too lazy to put out cones?
We traveled the 14 hour journey by way of Tulsa (Oklahoma being only slightly more topographically interesting than Kansas), cutting a corner into New Mexico. At some point we stopped to make some sandwiches during a gas-up (making a mental note to later have them ready-made for future pit stops) and learned he didn't have any mustard he assured he packed in a ziplock baggy - only two little Sonic tubs of honey mustard, and not the kind you want on your turkey & white but the kind you want on some crispy chicken tenders. "Now we have to ration the mustard," we laughed. Because unless it's a chili-dog, what good is a hot dog sans mustard? (Spoiler alert: we never even opened the package of hot dogs.)
Like I said, Oklahoma's only slightly more interesting than Kansas.
He did let me drive for a couple hours at best when he finally grew stiff enough. I'm not certain he was real confident in my ability to nurture his baby, as he gently reminded me things like Jeeps aren't Priuses when you're going around curves and do you even know what overdrive is? (I didn't so I started singing Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.)
Plus he's always doing things.
It wasn't difficult to tell once we'd crossed the Colorado border (and I don't mean the sign - I actually don't mean the dispensaries either, it was a while before we started seeing them, nothing obvious like Lake Liquor in Maumelle across the dry-county line) - but the mounds and the trees. It immediately just looked like Colorado (coming from someone who'd once been through the state at age 14/15 but not stopped to smell the Aspens) - or, as he would say: "It looks like crunchy broccoli. Arkansas is like soft broccoli."

Needs ranch.

As quickly as it came, light was disappearing as we neared a half hour away from our pre-determined campsite. We passed a different one and decided to make a u-turn straight for it instead before the darkness settled fully into place.

And this is where I was before when I was going on about the cold and how he even let me crawl up in his oversized Margaritaville chair so I could warm my toes beneath my body weight (perching is what "they" tell me I do) while he made us some hamburger helper by the light of his headlamp.

Allow me to interrupt here to share that we spoiled ourselves with food this go around. Normally we suffer, even when we're just car camping, with minimal backpacking-esque food. I told him we need to stop doing this because there's a certain joy in eating anything you'd cook at home in the kitchen out in the middle of an open valley where the city lights are distant enough to see more stars than you ever remembered there being. Even if you're just using the Coleman propane grill instead of earning the smoky campfire flavors, it's just better. (Or was it just the grass-fed beef? Nah.)

Despite being cold in my cotton shorts and Bernie tank and bare feet, I slept plenty warm. I hadn't cared the blanket I used reeked of dog (it was a car-seat-fur-deterrent in it's previous [15 hours ago] life); I tucked it inside my mummy bag and didn't wriggle that night - in all seriousness, I hate feeling cramped and I'm about as active as an awake two year old when I'm asleep, so it's almost freakish that I wasn't out of the bag by morning, as per usual. Our tent's a bit small for two full-sized humans (myself being, perhaps, debatable) and two large breed dogs but we didn't complain that night.

Unbeknownst to us, we were falling sound asleep right behind the brink of South Clear Creek Falls. The creek noise made sleeping easy.
I have no photographs from the night before.
They didn't know how not to tangle themselves.
Saturday morning wasn't any kinder than Friday night, and I was the first to rise (and the first to promptly sit down under both car-seat-fur-deterrent blankets) - I let Kafka join me next before the boy and his dog came along too. I'm not a huge breakfast eater (I like the food fine, just rarely hungry upon waking) but you might've thought I was a vacuum when you saw how fast I put down the sausage patties, eggs, and pancakes that first morning.
The sun stopped being shy eventually and thawed us out in full - once again comfortable in shorts and t-shirts. I helped pack up what he'd let me pack up and carried things to the Jeep - but I didn't dare tie it down inside, 'cause he had this whole "center of gravity" thing mapped out in his head and I just let him be himself. I was mostly proud of us for not killing each other at this point - despite his desperate need for frequent space, he handled my car karaoke pretty well. (Now if I could only coax out a duet.)

some stellar food photography taking place here
our campsite's backyard & my first trail to the falls
While he finished the job I wandered around the hill by myself, following a small footpath leading towards a louder and louder creek.

I was on top of it before I realized I was at the crest of the falls.

I enjoyed it for a bit, having it all to myself, before returning and telling my pack.

He still had some things he wanted to do and didn't think he'd have time to walk down the true "trail" to the observation point of the falls so I grabbed Kafka and took off to see another viewpoint.
Even without the falls he was surely missing out because as soon as you walk around the corner and out of the trees, the view is magnificent. And it really is a five minute "trail."

Once Kafka and I got to the overlook I decided to get a closer look of the falls and tied his leash to the safety poles (while I'm sure he's more graceful than me, I'm also sure he could pull me straight down the slippery gravel rocks down below in a heartbeat). By the time I was finished (or rather, wasn't) having a closer look I had to run back to him because people were beginning to arrive and neither party was sure about the other - Kafka tried to escape downhill to get away from them (a rarity for my social butterfly).

We beat my friend back to the car and were off towards Lake City in minutes. I had heard of North Clear Creek Falls and thought that's what I had actually been viewing, only to my surprise when we pulled off the road a few minutes later to the real thing. It was also magnificent - being slightly taller and one of the most photographed falls in the state (perhaps in part due to the adjacent parking lot), but if you want my real opinion, there was something a little more special about that tucked away South Falls. A little more secret, a little more hidden. The unknowingly sleeping behind it might've played a part too.

Either way, I wouldn't complain to take a few of these waterfalls back to Arkansas - there are some pretty ones, but it's rare to find one so powerful at the end of summer there.

*You can now see the rest of our Colorado adventure here and here

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