Earlier this summer I chanced upon one of the most beautiful and inspiring waterfalls I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a lot) in one of the most unlikely places I could imagine. On a road trip through British Columbia in Western Canada I chanced upon this incredible little oasis situated smack dab in what is reputedly the driest, hottest place in the province. Add to that, the fact that with yet another one of the poorest snow-packs in years, this particular summer has not been kind to rivers, lakes and waterfalls. I talked with locals all over the place who told me that already the water levels were precipitously low. Some rivers looked mighty thin to me given past experiences and the size of riverbeds.
So imagine my surprise while following the Thompson River down along its rugged course, just before it merges with the Fraser River at Lytton when I spied this magnificent 123 foot tall waterfall almost completely hidden from view. It was tucked back into a nearly vertical landscape of craggy treeless mountains forming ramparts for the magnificent Thompson River gorge. The Thompson River, aside, this area is bone dry and home to a sparse collection of Ponderosa Pines and small semi-arid desert plants and flowers. Mostly it’s just rocks and cliffs, however incredibly beautiful the whole place is.
We had actually stopped to photograph this cool old church parked in the town of Spences Bridge along a very underused part of the Trans Canada Highway. It looked to me like the church had been moved from somewhere else and was just waiting there. I really don’t know if that was the case, but it was boarded up and its tiny flock now consisted of a few birds nesting here and there in the building. I should note that more direct highway routes connecting eastern and northern parts of BC to Vancouver on the west coast have turned this part of the Trans Canada into what sometimes seems like an empty highway. A sad thing though in my opinion. I knew it in my youth as a busier transportation lifeline. I’ll have to write a story about that later.
The town of Spences Bridge has always struck me to as a place teetering on the brink of extinction and now feels in many ways like a living ghost town. There are still a few signs of life here and there including a cute little coffee shop/cafe called The Packing House, that makes wonderful homemade baked goods. Nice friendly people there too. We both loved that. There is also the rather poorly, or perhaps courageously named Baits Motel there too. Not sure if that was intended to attract people through association with the notorious Hitchcock film or tough darts defiant finger in the air from someone with that name. Curiously, it has one of the last remaining public telephone booths in existence lurking on the edge of its nearly empty parking lot. I didn’t actually try it for a dial-tone or anything, but it looked functional and I marveled again at just how far and fast mobile phones have penetrated every aspect of daily life. Gone now however, are all the other hallmarks of even a basic truck stop. I didn’t see a single gas station for example, and I do recall at least one or two from past forays there. My memory conjures up an Italian restaurant where I had eaten at least twice in the distant past, but could find no sign it ever existed on this trip.
When we hiked in, it turned out there was a smaller 38 foot waterfall up above and then this fabulous little cascade of mini-falls and rocky pools waiting below in an oasis of lush underbrush and small trees. It was just this beatific little oasis of tranquility only a few hundred yards from the Trans Canada Highway and I’ll bet it’s on hardly anyone’s radar. It wasn’t on mine and although I hadn’t visited there in many, many years, my first full-time job out of high school was working in Skihist Park about 15 minutes drive west, so I was pretty familiar with the general area at some point in the past. Go figure.
As I stood at the base of Murray Creek Falls near the edge of a small pool, I could really feel the power of the water in the spray and the wind it generated during an otherwise dead calm and very hot day. The other magical thing was a persistent rainbow dancing slowly around the base and creating a colorful frame for the waterworks. I did hike up higher on the surrounding hillsides to get photographs from other angles and despite navigating a steep. loose knoll to perch my camera on an unobstructed little ledge, the best images and experiences were to be found right at the base. A much easier and safer hike to be sure. I like pushing my Keen sandals to the edge, but sometimes the easy path yields best results. My girlfriend and traveling companion Dell figured this out right away. The big lesson for me really is to follow her more often. She’s a photographer too and has incredible instincts about this sort of thing. C’mon Dale – it doesn’t have to be that hard…
If you look carefully, you will find incredible beauty and growing things not just clinging to life, but flourishing in even the driest, most rugged and formidable landscapes. Stop, get out of the car and just walk around a little wherever you are on this planet. Amazing things await.
It was fun to return here after so many years, decades really, since my last visit. As I mentioned earlier, I have a history from my youth in this area even if brief. Some other interesting things happened the day we visited this waterfall that partially or maybe fully closed the loop on the time I spent here and some of the people I knew or worked with. It was another chance to face one of the most pivotal life and death events in my life too. But those will have to wait for another post I think. Meanwhile, if you haven’t traveled the Trans Canada Highway between Kamloops and Vancouver through both the Thompson and Fraser Canyon’s I strongly urge you to spend the time and explore this incredibly scenic and historically rich route. You won’t be disappointed.