New adventures in old haunts

The Sunday Escapist

New adventures in old hauntsNothing like triple-digit temperatures to coax us into the mountains.

I love exploring nature, but it’s too easy to keep going back to my favorite places. We always know how to get there and what to expect — they are never a disappointment. But I try to cycle in new locales at least every other family trip. These rarely go as planned, but they offer their own sort of fun and certainly serve as informative experiences. When we find ourselves lost, unprepared or otherwise surprised (which happens most of the time), I encourage my children to embrace these moments. “We are on an adventure, kids!”

For Father’s Day we decided to seek out Bull Run Creek Trail — a reportedly beautiful hike that’s tricky to find reliable directions for. Trails.com SAYS it will tell you where it is, as long as you are willing to log in all your personal information (I’m not). Google Maps says it’s in Virginia. And the locals will give you vague and slightly contradicting directions that only get more confusing if you ask for more detail.

So I left it to my beloved husband to direct me toward the trail. Over the last 20 years we’ve worked out a mutually agreeable system for traveling — I drive, since I get carsick if I don’t; he navigates, since we all get lost if he doesn’t.

The trail is located in the Whiskey Flat wilderness, and purportedly takes you on a four-mile hike (round trip) through moderate elevation climb leading to some elusive pools and waterfalls. We found the trailhead easily enough, although the signage conflicted a bit with our internet-influenced expectations. The sign said we could find the creek in half a mile, or continue on for 14 to get to Whiskey Flat.

We happened upon a return hiker just as we were embarking, who assured us that there is a stunning trail that follows the water leading up to some beautiful scenery. When we got to the creek, another intrepid explorer directed us to the other side of the rushing water for the aforementioned trail.

None of us was dressed for fording the “creek,” which was deep and fast-moving from our abundant rain this season. When I voiced my reluctance to cross, one of my children replied, “We are on an adventure, Mom!” Unwilling to be out-adventured by my cheeky little child, I joined the gang in removing shoes and socks, hiking up pantlegs and stowing electronics for the crossing. God bless the unknown, but thoughtful, predecessor who strung ropes across the forked crossing. It probably saved us a more thorough dunking, but we still managed to get plenty waterlogged in the process.

Once we reached the other side, we followed the only visible trail, expecting to eventually loop back toward some parallel climb toward the water source. But after maybe half a mile, when it was clear we were only getting further away, we turned around to search out an offshoot that would take us upward.

I know my love of the mountains was greatly influenced by my own father, who instilled in my siblings and myself a strict adherence to trail etiquette — the penultimate guideline (after “leave only footprints, take only memories”) being “never go off trail.” So tromping through gently used wilderness, trying to determine if we were indeed on a trail or just following in the sparse footsteps of other lost trekkers, began to feel like a painful trespass after a short time.

We half-heartedly continued our search for that earthen stairway to heaven, but never found it.

On the way home we stopped at Kern River Park to enjoy our picnic and the scenery. While the river is as picturesque as ever, it looks especially treacherous just now. For anyone planning to visit this season, please take every precaution if you plan to get near the water. (I was sad to learn that two more people went missing in the river the day we were there).

I’m eager to return to Bull Run Creek Trail in hopes of finding those elusive waterfalls. But on the drive home, I was comforted by all the familiar haunts that remain preserved in time on that stretch of the 178 — the ancient bones of a rusted-out schoolbus lying in a ravine off a tight curve (one of these days I’ll find the story behind that wreckage), the Victorian-era cemetery (and setting of many childhood stories I made up during countless drives), the Onyx Store (and frequent stop on lake trips for the sublime Choco Taco).

I wonder which of these localities are going to stand out in the memories of my children when they take journeys with their own families (and which of my catchphrases will endure … an abject reminder to watch my catchphrases). All I know is that I’m going to keep giving them as many destinations to choose from as possible.

— Rebecca Neipp

Story First Published: 2019-06-21