Thursday, May 05, 2005

MARIN COUNTY: You're Off to Carson Falls

It’s a lovely Spring day after refreshing rains, you’re feeling energetic, ready to let loose after a week of work. An early warming sun beckons. Your plan is to hike up unmarked Liberty Trail to check out Carson Falls on Mt. Tam’s northwest rugged contours.

Doesn’t seem like much, you’re thinking, no big deal, really. Pack a lunch, secure a few essentials, including binoculars and camera, in the Camelbak (your Hawg, of course), and you’re there in an easy and scenic 40 minutes!

There being western Marin county. You might as well be in the Sierra foothills, it’s so beautiful, so rural, or maybe somewhere in the big north country, you’re thinking, shaking your head in awe, looking out at big Pine Mountain with praise and gratitude filling your heart. How lucky, you think, to live in a megalopolis and yet so quickly be able to leave it behind.

You’ve passed Liberty Trail many times on the winding 15 mile Bolinas-Fairfax Road, but you were always on your way somewhere else—Cataract Falls, Alamere Falls. Now it’s finally time to get to know Carson Falls.

It’s not much more than a pull-off for a couple of cars at a hairpin curve in the road. You’ve got to know where you’re going, where you’re stopping. The trail leads up a gully to the fire road at the crest. You begin hiking along a prosaic little freshet that burbles its sweet melody for the first twenty minutes through dense forests of redwoods, bay, and madrone, with the most incredibly giant western ferns you’ve ever seen.

You stop occasionally to listen–you hear the calming zen fountain gush of water channeling through bedrock, you hear the plaintive twill of an unknown bird; to observe–you notice the softest, greenest moss you’ve ever seen; to reflect–you sing a sacred song of blessing for peace; to cleanse your mind–you stop thinking and become a part of your surroundings; to wring out your soul–maybe you cry over a lost loved one. Must be something about a pristine, heavily wooded, lush ravine with sunlight dappled trails that does that to you.

At the crest, you emerge into another brighter more expansive world. You stop to bask in the sun atop a rock-strewn, wildflower- mottled meadow. You’re gasping at the spectacular views of Mt. Diablo in the east, maybe 50 miles away; you’re loving the Scotland-like gigantic hillocks all around.

You continue on to the falls you’ve never once visited, to your astonishment, as though you think you know the Bay Area so well. Carson gorge is now agush with water, providing a breeding habitat for your friend, the beleaguered red-legged frog. A couple of water district volunteers are taking a survey, so you cheerily answer their questions about your knowledge of the red-legged frog, do you obey the "Keep Out" signs, are you opposed to them, is your wilderness experience diminished because of it. In no way, you merrily proclaim, while praising their work and trying to spot one of the little endangered critters. All you see is their eggs.

Carson Falls is truly a magnificent sight this time of year! You’re amazed how that little nothing of a creek cutting through the meadow above can produce endless chutes of glistening water tumbling through a gutted out gorge, descending perhaps more than 200 feet in layering falls, pools, falls, pools, until finally plunging to a semi-hidden, shaded basin of dark emerald water surrounded by jagged slime-covered rocks.

All of it is so breathtakingly beautiful! You take a zillion too many pictures with your new digital camera. You know the photos won’t do it justice. You snap away regardless. You prance around fearlessly on the slippery boulders, trusting your inner billy goat. You don’t want to leave. At one point, you just plop back in the grass on a sunny hillside, unconcerned with ticks, and while away a good hour doing absolutely nothing. A most healthy activity, you know! Except maybe all that sun, you’re thinking.

Alas, got to bid adieu to the falls, make the trek back to the artificial confines of the car, to your home, your job, all that. Something about the place compels a deeper response. You fling a prayer to the wind. You prostrate yourself and cry. You give thanks and praise such places exist. You want to share it with all your friends who never find time or desire to accompany you on these “weekend warrior” outings. You still can’t pull yourself away. You return to a special vantage point for another twenty minutes of doing nothing more than staring at water falling over rock, looking up at trees, listening to symphonic birdsong, closing your eyes, breathing in deeply the sweet pine-scented air. Now, it really is time to go, time to go. And you’ll be back. And you never really left.

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