Don't Go Chasing Waterfalls

One thing I have learned this summer is that my kids really love nature. We went on a road trip in July and traveled up the east coast into New England and Canada. Along the way, we stopped at state parks in Connecticut and Maryland, as well as the Lake Conemaugh lake bed in Pennsylvania and a cool little park in Romford, Maine. My kids are drawn to water. They love creeks and streams. And Tate loves the beach. It's the one place I've ever seen her completely acting carefree. At home she stresses about bugs and little things, but at the beach, she throws all caution to the wind and runs for the water. She doesn't even think about fish, crabs and all of the other little critters you can find there.

So, I felt the next logical step, once we settled in back at home, would be to check out the North Carolina state parks and natural areas. Since the kids enjoy water, I've specifically searched for places that have things they may enjoy. I have a shortlist of locations that are considered kid-friendly and decided to start with Looking Glass falls, which are near where my Dad lives.

Today, I can tell you, I've learned that "don't go chasing waterfalls" is not just a line from a TLC song. It started out innocuous enough. My Mom, my kids and I drove to my Dad's and from there we headed out for the falls. My Dad's neighbor said he knew exactly where they are and gave my Dad directions. I grew a little concerned once we were getting close because I had not seen anything I had expected to see along the way there. I have a friend who went recently and did a pretty good job of documenting the journey there. I decided to just cast those doubts aside and figured perhaps we were approaching from a different direction or something.

At last, we arrived at the overlook for Looking Glass Rock. We were told that once you park there, you cross the road (the Blue Ridge Parkway) and get on the trail to the falls. It should only be a 1/3 mile hike. Everything I had read online was that the falls were easily accessible and the walk was easy for children. As we started, the trail was fine. But it wasn't very long before there were tons of exposed roots, many rocks and inclines and descents that were steep and hard for the adults to get proper footing, much less the 4-year-old and the 8-year-old. And we walked and walked, seemed like forever. Occasionally, we would pass some hikers coming in the opposite direction and they would give us some idea of how much farther we had to go. At one point we had to climb these precarious dirt and log "stairs" and as soon as I saw them, my brain started trying to tell my body, "No, I'm not going there!" Every step had me tense with my leg muscles shaking. But once again, we all persevered and got through it. We thought it was encouraging when a hiker explained that we only had to crest one more hill and we would be at the falls.

It took us about an hour from start to finish, to hike the trail to the falls. But once we got there, it was really quite lovely. We went down some wooden stairs to a small bridge that crossed over the water. Great! Pretty! Worthy of photos.

I only took a couple of things with me on the hike. My camera was in it's case, hooked to my belt loop. My keys were in my left pocket. I had a bandana to keep my hair back once it started curling up and becoming unruly. And last but not least, I wore my sunglasses. At some point, I put my sunglasses in my pocket. On the bridge, I realized they weren't on my head so I reached into my pocket to get them.

This moment is insane and kinda difficult to explain properly. Some bizarre, cosmic thing happened. A fluke. When I pulled my sunglasses out, apparently my keys were hooked onto one of the earpieces and were catapulted into the water below. It happened in slow motion and very the same time. I couldn't believe it. I was dumbstruck and I would say speechless, but a litany of profanity came spewing forth. One good thing was that the water was very clear and I could see where the keys landed. They weren't carried off by the water and they were on the side closest to where I was. Unfortunately, the only way down that side was by descending these flat, steep rocks. (It's hard to tell in the photo. The red circle shows where my keys landed.)

My mind started racing. My car was the only car we drove there. Dominic is the only other person with keys to the car. He was in Charlotte and even if he could get away from work, he is horrible with directions and never would've been able to find us anyway. My Mom is spazzy like I am, so I could just see her injuring herself if she tried to get the keys. And my Dad offered, but he's got a foot that's not too great, so I didn't want him to hurt himself either. I was the youngest and allegedly the most fit, right? Right. I had to do it. If anyone was going to, it had to be me.

I began to descend down these flat and sloping rocks. There was lots of butt-sliding like a kid does when they are afraid to go down stairs. Once I found a safe spot to ditch my shoes, camera and sunglasses, I did. Then I set foot in the water. HOLY MOLY it was cold!! Mountain water is COLD! I baby-stepped at first, but why prolong the agony? But with each real step I took, the water got about 2 feet higher!! It was crazy. It took my breath away! I tried to stop to take a second and catch my breath, but it wasn't happening. And, unfortunately for all of my family who was present, I was dropping f-bombs left and right. By the time I got close to my keys, the water was past my shoulders!

I began to worry that I had hallucinated where my keys were or if they would be beyond my reach or something I'd have to try to pick up with my feet. Oh no, what if I missed and knocked them off the ledge they were on and they got carried off downstream? I really didn't want to take any more steps, so I swam a little bit, stretched out my arm as far as I could and grasped around until I had the keys. They were firmly in my hand and they were staying there until I could get to solid ground!

I got back to where my belongings were and got my shoes back on, reattached my camera to my belt loop and decided to add my keys to the hook that attached my camera case to me. Then the task of scaling the rocks back up to the bridge was before me. I'll be the first to admit, I am a complete spaz. I lack all coordination and I've always tried to avoid situations where it was needed. Over the past couple of years, I've become more and more interested in hiking and some mild climbing. When I hiked up part of the rim of Mt. Ubehebe in Death Valley in 2010, I knew it was something I'd want to do again. Unfortunately, I hadn't done that much of it. All the best laid plans and good intentions, right? But I found myself doing what I had to do and carefully placing my hands and feet and using muscles I never intended on using that day. My Dad was waiting towards the top and helped get me to my feet. After that, my arms and legs were like spaghetti and I was pretty much ready to go.

BUT, we hadn't really seen any of the areas around the falls. I wanted more photos. So, my parents took the kids and I did some more mild climbing and hiking to get some photos. It wasn't so bad, apart from trying to stay still long enough for a photo...and being drenched from head to toe. I took a change of clothes for the kids. Never imagined I would be the one needing some!

After all the photos were snapped and I made my way back to my family, we had to hike all the way back to the car. That was about another hour of hiking. Once we got to the car, I was absolutely gobsmacked to find that my keyless entry remote still worked! I had written that off!

The punchline of this entire story is that my Dad's neighbor gave us directions to Skinny Dip Falls, which are across from Looking Glass Rock.

Looking Glass Falls are somewhere else entirely different. We drove around and found them. Looking Glass Falls are beautiful and have concrete steps down to them. It's a minute's walk. Totally ridiculous, but an adventure all the same.

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