After running through some options to break the television-watching rain routine, we settle on the forty-five minute drive to Jump Creek Falls, what some call a “locals’” attraction because of unclear, zig-zag access through private pastures and occasional use by teen revelers.
Past row after perfect row of fruit trees and vines, across the slow water of the Snake River, then along rolling pastures punctuated here and there by a wooden house and small barn, oases among manure, curious habitations, we think — “Ooh, you smell bad, Brenna,” we say, making the usual joke as we drive those final miles to Jump Creek Falls, a sixty foot drop hidden among orange cliffs at the edge of the Owyhees.
“It’s the cows!” she screeches in protest.
Something inexorable in the otherwise delicate network within our heads pushes us into the mercurial teen years. I remember with some regret joining the final family trips of my youth with pouting instead of participation.
“Do I have to go?” Hunter asked at the house.
“Yes,” we said. Although the pull of Minecraft is strong, we knew from experience the mysteries of creeks and crannies would soon have him shouting in delight, “you gotta come see this!”
We are only fifty feet from the car when Hunter and Brenna run off the trail into water-birch and dogwood brambles to explore Jump Creek, flowing narrowly around angular grey boulders, between recently scoured banks.
“We’re in no hurry,” I reassure them when they glance back at Jess and I with questioning eyes.
“My hands are low on batteries,” Brenna mentions nonchalantly, as if they’ve always had a problem holding their charge.
Hunter spots a trail leading up to rocks that overhang the canyon like a cresting wave, foaming and frozen in time. He and Brenna immediately veer and clamber as competitors, legs and backs bent, to keep the other from claiming whatever treasures may hide there.
It isn’t marked but the click-stop next to 3.2 should be the ƒ4 I’m after. I rotate the mode dial to M and choose 1/400th for this Konica Hexanon 135mm lens¹ that’s as old as I am. For $25 (ebay), it’s pleasant to handle and makes nice images. The others run ahead while I stand a moment looking through aged glass.
When I catch up I see Hunter has made his way across the small creek to explore a cavity within the ryholite cliff. Brenna has run ahead, out of sight, ever independent.
It is hard as parents to convey that we are not the looming mass of rock. We are the ones trying to carve the space. An inductive, kinetic learning style and slow growth curve can make the non-social aspects of school frustrating for Hunter, hard for his self-worth. And us, wanting him to do the schoolwork when he’d rather enjoy himself, often seem the oppressors. But I think we’re all getting better at it. The last report was nearly all A’s!
I think we’re only fifty feet farther along the trail when the kids see another diversion, a tenuous path leading into shaded brambles along the cliff wall. I can hear them yelling to each other but I can’t see them.
Brenna insists on continuing ahead through brush and boulders on her own. There are abrupt drops around and I don’t know what’s ahead. I insist on her stopping and returning to the main trail with me. “I don’t like you dad,” I hear for not-the-first time (the cross we bear).
By the time Brenna and I catch up to Jessica, Hunter has disappeared into fissures below the trail.
I find him kind of stuck, having leapt to an angled rock face without traction to continue. I think he’s relieved to see me but he doesn’t say so. I hop to the nearby rock where I can clasp his hand to pull him back.
After a thorough exploration along the way, we reach the main falls which require of each visitor a series of evidentiary portraits.
Photo by Jessica
The sixty foot cascade of water sets the air swirling in the rock bowl around us.
Hunter was climbing the walls, literally, but reluctantly agreed to return for a picture with mom.
I think I bumped a setting on the flash (too bright) but Hunter is too quick to be on his way for another shot.
Photo by Jessica
With time and energy remaining, we decide to investigate the trails higher up in the canyon. We return to the car for a small snack then set out once more.
Jump Creek originates from springs in the upper canyon.¹ Bare red-osier dogwood branches along the water make a maroon snake the length of the canyon.
The overlook trail reaches its end after the vantage point. It looks like some continue over the rocks but after Hunter and Jessica reconnoiter, we decide it’s not a safe idea for today.
We return to the trailheads near the parking lot for the third and final choice that at first leads uphill, away from the canyon. “Your legs have strong batteries,” I call after Brenna as she runs ahead.
“Yep,” she chirps in a placating tone without slowing.
This land, the Owyhees, is desolate – a rolling tumbleweed and a sorrowful sound of wind are its currency. “The largest untouched stretch of the American West,” some say.¹
We still can’t find a view of the falls from up here. “I’ll run down there and look,” I tell Jessica before scrambling to a lower outcrop while her and the kids remain above.
The drop is more immediate than I expect and I experience a moment of vertigo, like a weight tipping in my skull, as I peer over the lower edge. I still can’t see the falls but a faint trail following the creek makes me wish we had time to climb down and find where it leads. It will be a reason to return.
We descend the rim trail satisfied that we’ve explored all we can today. “There was more to see here than I remembered,” I tell Jessica, thinking of our visit on the motorcycle a few years ago.¹ We are pleased, as always, to see the kids thrill at these natural places. I hope that lasts a lifetime.