A Night in the Forest

During the weekend of Aug. 2nd and 3rd, I spent Saturday night in my camper near where I volunteer for the Forest Service at Mesa Falls each weekend. After a busy day and some reading in the cab to while away a couple hours, I settled in for the night. Off about a hundred feet, the night light in the owner's trailer burned for a while, and finally went out. In the distance, the soft roar of the falls provided the only counterpoint to the pervading stillness.

About two o'clock, I got up and took a short walk. High in the northern sky, the Big Dipper and the big W of Cassiopeia stood boldly against the sky. The two end stars of the Big Dipper point in about four star lengths to the North Star which, in turn is the end star in the handle of the Little Dipper. Through the night, these three dominant constellations perform their eternal dance around the North Star, changing almost imperceptibly in their relative positions within a human lifetime. So huge in this great stage within which our lonely planet and its neighbors travel with our star. As I looked up at Cassiopeia, I reflected back to a faraway scout parade ground seventy years ago, where I first identified it in earning astronomy merit badge. In all visual perspective, it remains unchanged.

In the morning, I got up in the cool 40 degree air fresh with the scent of the forest and walked over to the falls with renewed energy and got a good early morning workout climbing the 137 steps. The sun was gradually working its light down into the canyon, as the spray shot out from the bottom of the falls. Mesa Falls is the largest remaining undisturbed waterfall in the entire Columbia River system. One of the descriptive signs along the trail describes its output as between 387 and 967 million gallons of water coming over them each day, depending on flow and season. The amphitheater surrounding the falls, with its northerly exposure and rising mist, is dominated by the spiky spires of sub-alpine fir, ferns and mosses.

Threatened since early in the nineteenth century with hydro-development, the falls are now permanently protected through the efforts of many people during the 1980's and by an agreement between the Forest Service and Montana Power Co. In winter a ski trail climbs out of the old Bear Gulch Ski area and closely follows the canyon rim and on down into the Big Falls area. The newly built walkway leads down to the falls which, in a good winter is completely frozen. It is an eight mile round trip, but well worth it.

- Evan Tibbott, August 5, 2013

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Evan - Mesa Falls in Early Morning 8-2013.jpg71.18 KB
Evan - The Mesa Falls Amphitheater with its mosses, ferns and lichens - 8-2013.jpg73.57 KB