“There’s hope at the bottom of the biggest waterfall.” – Patrick Ness
We are all guilty of it. Seeking that perfect shot. That perfect photo for our social media feeds. And in search of that permanent proof of a memory, we sometimes lose the organic memory itself. Studies show that when we stop to physically take a picture, we temporarily disengage from the moment we are living. And ultimately, our brains save the moment on a more surface level than we might otherwise.
So what happens when a professional photographer and a media personality with a blogging addiction hit the open road for an epic adventure to capture as many waterfalls as possible on our SD cards?
This is Miles and my story.
We spent our first night in Cascade Locks, Oregon. We woke before dawn to see the sun rise over the Bridge of the Gods. The Pacific Crest Trail crosses the Columbia River here, and the lowest elevation of the trail is on this bridge, resulting in many hikers ending their journeys here from the trailhead at the border Mexico. This place holds special meaning to me, so kicking off our adventure here couldn't have been more quintessential. As the cotton candy skies reflected off the steel beams of the bridge we set off on foot down what we thought was the PCT. We were determined to hit our first waterfall in the golden hour for optimal footage. And as they typically are, my directional skills were a wee-bit off. In fact they were so off that we were on the wrong trail all together, resulting in a scurry back to the PCT. I could tell Miles was frustrated with me, but I couldn't help but find solace in my mistake. As we turned around my favorite bridge came back into view, the sky a more magnificent shade of pink than before and the lump in my throat rose creating tears in my eyes. Such beauty. Beauty we would have missed had we taken the right trail in the first place.
We made our way up the PCT as the sun started to rise over the horizon, creating splintered light through the magnificent pine and fir trees lining the soft trail. We may have missed our opportunity to shoot in the golden hour, but we were able to experience it first hand without looking through a lense. My heart beat in tune with my footsteps and soon the sound was overtaken by a different beat. The beat of water crashing to the earth from 74 feet up. We reached a secluded amphitheater of basalt walls and there she stood in all of her magnificence. The first waterfall of the weekend. We took our photos, let the dogs run through the creek and left feeling like we'd won the lottery. What a perfect start to what would be an epic weekend.
Day one continued...
An abandoned grist mill made famous by Instagram...the only car pulling away as we pulled up. Having the place to ourselves, we frolicked along the trail, let the energy of the creek fill our veins and watched as the sun danced along the moss-covered landmark.
A hidden waterfall alongside the highway. Only accessible by hopping the guard rail. A ladder leading up the side of the 50-footer, but leading to nothing but purple wildflowers. The falls cascade over a blocky cliff of columnar basalt creating a one-of-a-kind appearance - one we found very difficult to photograph in the bright afternoon sun. So we chalked it up to a memory. One I won't soon forget.
Then on to the first of two state parks. The first dubbed Cape Disappointment which left us feeling far from disappointed. The southwestern most corner of Washington receives about 106 days of fog a year —making it one of the foggiest places in the US. We arrived with nothing but blazing sun and cobalt blue sky. Also not ideal for capturing photos. But a small trail led us to the Dead Man's Cove, a picturesque chasm in the cape's cliffs. We wandered to the hidden beach, where a shipwreck casualty once washed ashore. The pups chased the waves and we left footprints in the hot sand before visiting the oldest lighthouse still in use on the West Coast (it's age equally as unflattering as it was for photos). We smiled at each other once again and accepted the documentation we were able to get (which included Miles hiding in the bushes to mask the ugliness of the lighthouse...leaving me laughing until my cheeks hurt). I'll remember his antics far after I forget what the lighthouse looked like. Chalk it up to another memory...
Then it was on to Ecola State Park. Fans of the Goonies would know it as the place where Mikey, Mouth, Data and of course, Chunk with treasure map in hand, stumble upon the Fratelli family’s hideout (aka, the Lighthouse Lounge) while hunting for hidden treasure. Miles was one of those fans. His eyes lit up as we came upon the place where the little adventurers rode their bikes overlooking the ocean and the "three rocks." We stopped and took in the sights asI looked for whales and we laughed as we raced each other up and down the trail. He did the Truffle Shuffle and I messed up the infamous quote, exclaiming, "Goonies live forever" rather than "Goonies never say die!" And we took photos. But I can honestly say it's not the photos I'm going to remember.
Another popular roadside attraction was next on the list, which initially left us a little bummed out. Hug Point is one of those "must stop" locations when traveling along the Oregon Coast. When the tide is low you can walk around the point to a waterfall and explore the sea caves. Unfortunately, we made it there four minutes before HIGH tide. And getting to the waterfall was impossible. So we did what any true adventurers would do...we tried to make our own trail. At one point as we wove our way through the underbrush, leaving fresh scratches across our arms and legs, we came to the cliff's edge and a view of the waterfall we were seeking. Or should I call it a water trickle? Suddenly we felt better about our tidal luck and once again, chalked it up to another memory.
Our final stop on day one was Oswald State Park. And this time we hit that golden hour. Columns of sunlight scattered through the towering trees above and as we meandered the soft earth toward the beach surfers passed us on the trail. We walked to our next waterfall as the sun set over the horizon. Locals scattered the beach starting campfires and making s'mores. Dogs sat patiently waiting for their surfers to return to shore. We played tag with the ocean waves as bodies became silhouettes. And in that moment we found perfection. I sat on a bench as Miles set up his camera to catch the fuschia skies. Sandals were slid off my feet which I planted firmly on the earth below. And I shut my eyes. I'm not a praying girl, but in that moment I sent out a small thank you to the universe for what had been an extraordinary day.
We woke up on Miles' birthday in the bayside town of Garibaldi. You could smell the salt in the air and the fog hung low over the hillside. Mother Nature had gifted us with a moody morning ideal for chasing a few waterfalls.
First stop, the tallest waterfall on the coastal range - crashing down at over 300 feet. It looked like a scene from Jurassic Park, and we managed to be the only car at the trailhead. So far Miles' birthday luck was on our side. We pulled out the drone and he showed me the ropes. I felt the excitement of a child rise up in my belly as I watched it lift from the ground, the dogs chasing it like a wild bird. Peeking over Miles' shoulder at the screen gave me a whole new view of the falls, one we would never see otherwise and the drone decided to go above it's maximum altitude, find GPS signal and deliver the most impressive footage imaginable. But what I remember most was the look of delight on the birthday boys' face. His wishes were coming true.
We thought our luck had run out by our second stop. The skies parted and the sun lit up the sky. We pulled into an overly crowded trailhead and made our way to our second waterfall, hoping the canyon and forest would shade it enough to capture it in all of its glory. Soon a 240-foot suspension bridge appeared, soaring above the 70-foot falls The bridge is anchored by bolts securely planted in the rock, but it still felt a bit like walking across a unsteady circus tightrope. We made our way down to the base of the falls and set up the camera before anyone else arrived. As Miles prepared for his long exposure shot, the tourists appeared. A family with a very young boy had scurried down the cliffside rather than using the trail to emerge on the rock below, holding their toddler over the edge like Simba on the Lion King. I turned and looked at Miles to see an assemblage of humans converging behind him, each with their camera out. Soon they were pushing past me toward the waterfall and the shot was lost. This would be the first location we would dub - Insta-wrecked. A place that gained popularity due to Instagram and other forms of social media, only to lose its luster.
We decided to call it quits and started the hike back to the car. Then they appeared again. The same family, on our heels. Loud, in our bubble...part of their harem had made it in front of us on the trail and they had slowed down. So we were stuck. Their voices drowning out the sounds of the birds and the trees swaying in the wind. You come to a place like this to feel small. To breath. And suddenly we were drowning. As we tried to pass one of them he moved to the middle of the trail to block us. We will call this man Bowser. Suddenly we were in a game of Mario Kart and we had no plans of coming in last. Luckily Bowser had nothing on Mario and Luigi and we slipped by on the inside around a switchback. We were back in first place, laughing the whole time. We weren't about to let a few disrespectful tourists ruin our day.
On to Thor's Well.
"Sitting on the edge of the Oregon coast is what appears to be a gaping sinkhole that never seems to fill despite the unbroken stream of sea water that drains into it, but Thor's Well, as the natural wonder is known, is not bottomless, but it is very dangerous." - Atlas Obscura
Thor's Well is a bowl-shaped hole carved out of the rough basalt on the Oregon Coast shoreline. You'll find this place on most photographer's bucket lists. Which is why we were there.
We hit the tides right and wandered out to the Well. It reminded me of a toilet, flushing and refilling over and over again and sometimes overflowing which made me giggle. We shared the scene with two other humans. Both sitting on a rock, quietly taking in the ocean. They looked as if they were mourning someone, so we gave them their space and stayed quiet as we filmed the Well. But then it happened again. Out of nowhere dozens of tourists appeared around us. One so close to my ear I could feel her breath as she stood on the same small piece of slippery basalt as I had claimed. I looked at Miles and there was a man peering over his shoulder, inches from his face, looking into his viewfinder. The two women on the rocks went from looking sad to irritated in a matter of moments. This natural wonder had been Insta-wrecked.
Even the car wasn't safe anymore. As we drove the beautiful coastal Highway we became stuck in traffic. Frustrations started to soar. We needed to get out of here. We needed space to breath.
Our next spot gave us the redemption we were seeking.
One trail. Three waterfalls. The drive up the mountain through the old growth forest to the trailhead was magical. And the only car at the trailhead was leaving when we arrived. Finally, some serenity.
This place was indescribable. I can honestly say between my words and Miles' photos, we could never do it justice. But that's what this blog is ultimately about, isn't it? I can tell you this though. As I sat on a rock where the creeks of the twin falls converged, I was recharged. The energy this sober sister felt was beyond any drug or alcoholic beverage I've tried. Waterfalls create something called negative ions. Negative ions are odorless, tasteless, and invisible molecules that we inhale in abundance in nature, particularly mountains, waterfalls, and beaches. And those negative ions have been scientifically proven to create positive vibes. They don't call it healing water for nothing. And I even made a few friends. Sitting on the rock I was joined by a gang of millipedes. Only this time I was more than willing to share my space. It says a lot when I'd rather spend my quiet peaceful moment with a creepy crawly with hundreds of legs versus another human...
On the third day we slept in. Chasing the golden hour no longer seemed of as much importance as chasing our dreams. We awoke feeling refreshed and ready to conquer our final day of explorations. After escaping the concrete jungle that was Eugene we ran for more open space and a place we both hold very dear to our hearts - the Columbia River Gorge. You may remember the fire that gutted the gorge in 2017. The Eagle Creek Fire burned almost 50,000 acres and for a total of three months. The damage increased the likelihood of falling trees, landslides and falling rocks where the Gorge's rocky slopes had been destabilized. Everything was shut down. All because a group of teenagers thought it would be funny to throw a firework in the canyon at peak fire season.
As the gorge slowly reopens its trails and tourist attractions, more and more folks are coming to celebrate its wonder and beauty. But sadly, this also means more people are arriving who don't have respect for it's healing stage. We witnessed littering, a lack of trail etiquette and even saw two men scale a fence that had been placed there to block off the closed trails. Both were covered in soot and mud. The trailheads were overrun with people. Which resulted in us skipping a lot of the waterfalls on our list. But we came to a conclusion as to why this had to happen...
Those busy locations, well-funded and well cared for, were created for the crowds. They were put there to keep the masses away from the true gems. The hidden waterfalls and creeks and lakes and magical places that couldn't survive if people knew about them. If their trails were well-groomed and their locations posted all over social media they'd be trampled, destroyed. Because of those busy spots, we were able to experience some of the most majestic of places. Which in turn resulted in us truly appreciating what they had to offer.
As we pulled up a dirt road past one of the chaotic trailheads and made way to a lesser-known falls, we smiled realizing what we were experiencing felt like it was made just for us. And it truly was. We hit four more waterfalls on that last leg of our adventure. Each one more magnificent than the last. And while we took pictures there was something different about how the photos and video turned out that day. They captured something different. They documented a FEELING more so than an image. A freedom. I had retired my Danner hiking boots and Teva sandals for flip flops. Sometimes trading those for my bare feet. Video shows an aura of whimsy, a sparkle behind both our eyes. And something even more important...
An appreciation not only for what Mother Nature had gifted us, but an appreciation for each other. The time we spent maneuvering through the weekends frustrations and obstacles as a team brought growth and a mutual understanding for something we had both previously avoided sharing with many other people. And the good times by far outweighed the bad.
As we drove home that night, a beautiful song came on properly titled Waterfall by my favorite artist, Mogli. And while I doubt he'd want me writing this down, I witnessed what could have even been tears welling up in the corners of Miles' stunning blue eyes. Something you could barely make out in the dark of the night. And in turn my own tears started streaming down my cheeks.
What we took in photos, in video...it barely scratches the surface of the weekend we shared. Of the memories we created when we weren't looking at the world through our cameras.
The moral of the story? Take pictures, document those memories, but don't ever forget the MOMENTS. Put the phone away and share the moment with the person or people you are with. Not everyone has to be a part of your history, your story. Some things (memories, locations, experiences) are better kept secret. Shared only amongst those who truly matter and truly care.
"Surround yourself with people that make your soul feel alive."