In search of frozen waterfalls

I stood on a narrow strip of ground and looked at the ice beneath my feet. The ravine was deep here. On one side of me was the creek, snow and ice covered cliffs on the other. I gingerly stepped forward and began to slip. Inhaling sharply, I grabbed at the rock next to me only to get a handful of icicle. “Mom!”, came a yell from behind me and I realized that the kids had followed even though I had told them to wait while I checked things out first. “Well, were all in this together now”, I thought and continued to gingerly make my way forward.

The short January day was quickly drawing to a close, but we wanted one more adventure. One more snowy hike to explore frozen waterfalls before they all melted. So we piled in the car and drove for miles along icy country roads until we came to Short Springs Natural Area. I parked in the lot and, after a small commotion of finding and putting on hats and gloves and boots and coats, we were off into the woods.

We took the Machine Falls Trail, a 1.6 mile loop. The snow-covered path and crunched beneath our feet as we hiked, breathing in the crisp, clean air. We were the only ones there and all was quiet, muffled by snow and trees and the day’s end. Soon we began a steep decent down toward Bobo Creek. The wooden stairs and rocks that had been placed to help with the downward descent were very slippery, but we made it down without incident. At the bottom was a sign that pointed to a small trail that led to Machine Falls; our destination.

The trail quickly ended and our options were to either walk in the creek (a great option, I’m sure, in the summer, but not so much in January) or walk along a small ice-covered ledge along the side of the creek. I told the kids to wait while I followed the ledge. The rock cliff that jutted up from the creek was covered in snow and a nice sheen of ice, so there wasn’t much to hold onto, but I kept moving and slipping forward. A “Mom, wait!“, made me realize that the kids had not waited- of course they hadn’t- and were making their way along the slippery ledge and rocks. I told them to be careful and to follow me and then focused on rounding a section of the ledge that disappeared as the rock-face jutted out over the creek. We all made it without getting wet and suddenly, there it was, Machine Falls.

The falls were beautiful! Tucked into a hidden cove, it felt like we had discovered a magical land. Sheets of icicles clung to the cliff and connected down to frozen pools of water. The main falls still flowed, the water singing as it went over rock and ice. Spray from the falls kicked up and froze into a million tiny dust-sized particles that spun and sparkled all around us in the setting sun. Snow still coated much of the rock and ice frosted everything. We all stopped and just stared.

Then my older son put a chuck of ice down is brother’s shirt. My daughter decided to climb up the waterfall and promptly stuck her foot into the river. My youngest daughter began to complain that her fingers were cold. The spell was broken! The natural chaos that is our family had returned. I watched the fairy ice dust sparkling in the air for a few more minutes while my kids ran around exploring and throwing ice and jumping across rocks. The magic of the moment was gone, but not the excitement that this spot brought. Then an icicle fell and just missed hitting me on my head; the result of a chuck of ice thrown from the 5th child I didn’t realize I had named “not me”. It was time to move on!

We slipped and slid our way back and crossed a bridge as the trail continued up and out of the ravine. The last few rays of the setting sun hit us as we crested the hill and looked down the at the racing river far below us. The trail continued to an overlook high on a bluff with a view of Machine Falls that was less than impressive after standing right next to it. I don’t think there’s much of a view at all when leaves are on the trees. We moved on quickly.

We continued on the Machine Falls Loop trail until we reached the Bobo Creek trail.  The snow deepened again here as we hiked through thickets of mountain laurel clinging to the slopes (I’ve read that this is one of the best spots in the state to see spring wildflowers!).  The sun had set and the woods grew murky against the red and orange sky.  We wanted to check out one more set of falls, so we hurried along as the trail meandered down to the creek.  At the creek, we crossed another bridge, stopping to admire the view and throw snow into the water, and continued across and up a bluff on the other side.

We made our way down a slippery slope of snow and ice and rocks and mud until we reached a lookout point for Upper and Lower Busby Falls.  They were a set of beautiful cascading falls tumbling over rock shelves so even and precise that they looked man made.  Unfortunately, darkness was quickly falling so we couldn’t stay long.  We reluctantly left, vowing to return in the spring!

Short Springs Natural Area is a great area to explore and get in a quick hike.  There are a few more trails and waterfalls that we didn’t take that you can also explore.  You can get more info about it here including trail maps.  Have fun exploring no matter what the season!

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