Knee-deep in clear water with a temperature that is somewhere between frozen and glacial. What was once the calm and meandering Potem Creek here takes a seventy-foot fall into the pond we are standing in now, a large blue and green body that is surrounded by lush vegetation and towering grey rocks. The area surrounding Potem Falls is a dry and hilly forest, accessed by a gravel road that spews dust behind your car, as you venture to this hidden locale.
Finding Potem Falls was not as difficult as anticipated, with most roads clearly marked and the instructions we had being relatively easy to follow. Our forty-year old Shasta-Trinity Forest map helped us to find it’s general location, but lines on a map and roads on the ground can be quite different. After the pavement turned to gravel, my poor car Jasmine took a bit of a beating, with the road being cut by serrations that vibrated the car and our behinds to no end. I was accompanied this trip by my dear friend Jessica C, who provides and eager smile and keeps things light when we are faced with such calamities as road construction or potentially getting lost. The trailhead was clearly marked by the road becoming slightly wider and a cement block with two metal posts indicating where a sign once existed. The hike down is less of a hike and more of a careful walk on dirt. It zigzags back and forth, with occasional vistas offering peeks at the falls to come. There are a few places where the trail has eroded either by lazy/ambitious hikers attempting to make shortcuts (admittedly, the hike can be pretty arduous at its 0.3 miles), or simply by natural causes. At the bottom, we came to the huge pond, with the falls at the far end. The water was clear, calm, and inviting after the hike in the warmth of the sun. We stumbled onto a makeshift shelter next to the huge rocks that must have been created by some adventurous person escaping the heat, and the way it was created made it blend into its surroundings.
We ditched our shoes and unnecessary clothes, and tiptoed into the water. The heat of the day was in stark contrast to the bitter cold water. After our bodies began to adjust (or go numb) we started to circle the pond, finding a rope swing where brave souls careened themselves into the darkness of the water. We could not decide if the water was dark in its center due to the shade of the trees and hills that surrounded this area, or if it was indicative of relative depth. I was not brave enough to find out. I followed the rock as close as I could to be directly underneath the falls, as the rock I shimmied across had a small concave area carved into it, and seemed to cleave the water in two. We found small purple flowers that grew on the face of the cliff that surrounded the falls, and noted it’s delicate hardiness. We braved the water, swimming as much as we dared, and even taking a few pictures with my waterproof camera that came out humorous but perhaps won’t be winning awards any time soon.
We ate lunch on one of the massive rocks that sat at the edge of the water, being visited by all sorts of insects, and even catching glimpses of several types of butterflies. At one point in the conversation, I became immensely tired, as all the cold water drained from my body, being replaced by the warmth of the liquid sunshine.
It seemed like an oddly appropriate place to be at this particular time: the summer coming to a close, and new lives at hand. Jessica and I have gone to the same school for the past six years, and now we would be going our separate ways, geographically opposite. Of course we will stay in contact, but we have watched as our once close-knit friend group slowly disbanded, which is of course a natural and normal part of life, but the finality of it all just hit.And yet, the area we were in was a testament to the natural law of flow and change. If water droplets could travel from serene and quiet rivulets and then plummet 70 feet, or seep into the rock, or help nourish the nearby plants, or be evaporated into the sky, maybe we all could go our separate ways and still be alright.
The pictures do not do the falls justice. The secluded area, the subtle roar of the waterfalls, the breeze produced by falling water, the bizarre juxtaposition of two opposite temperature extremes, it is something that can only be truly experienced in person.