Off The Map Side-Stories #5: Mission Accomplished

Maybe I shouldn’t have acted selfish by refusing to go to work early.  But I had already had my heart set on hiking to Mission Falls when I got the call from a co-worker requesting my assistance.  Rainstorms had crashed into the crest of the Santa Ynez Range all night, and I knew the waterfalls along its south slope might only flow for a few hours before going dry once more.  Considering how stingy the El Niño season was being with its rainfall, I might regret missing this window of opportunity.

The trailing edge of the storm still dragged along the top of the ridgeline, but I pushed my jeep through the mists to reach at the trailhead, four thousand feet above the Pacific Ocean.  Besides the cold wind, all seemed quiet.  I had hoped to hear the sound of water rushing down gullies, but I feared that the rainwater had drained away before I had gotten there.  Wet patches of snow lingered beneath the bushes, and yellow petals from the bush poppies lay scattered across the trail like confetti – another sign that I might have shown up late for the party.

But as I descended, a faint gurgling began to reach my ears.  The bubbling of water soon grew from a whisper into a joyous song.  Mere trickles merged into louder currents, splashing and diving through the gullies beside me.  I tried to keep pace, dashing down the trail while trying not to slip on the golden sand and wet sandstone. 

The excitement of these long-dormant streams was contagious and made me overlook the approach of fresh stormclouds until I stood near the lip of Mission Falls and felt the rain returning.  I tried to shield my camera long enough to snap a photo of the rare sight.  Water dove steeply down a hundred-foot sandstone cliff and crashed into boulders below before disappearing into the chaparral.  Elsewhere along the Santa Ynez Range, waterfalls like Tangerine, Seven Falls and the Widow’s Tear were experiencing a similar resurgence.  It was a hopeful moment in a time of drought and uncertainty.

The wind grew increasingly chill as I regained the trail and climbed back towards my vehicle.  An occasional snowflake slipped into the mix of precipitation and struck the sodden mountainside, melting quickly, but these mavericks were soon joined by more and more companions.  The ratio of snowflakes to raindrops kept increasing, and my nose grew numb from the cold, but I managed to reach the trailhead before my extremities and core made the subtle slide towards hypothermia.

Looking at my watch, it seemed I would manage to get to work early after all.  My conscience approved.  I would have to begin my shift with damp jeans, but that was a minor inconvenience.  If being a cheerleader for El Niño meant that more storms could be persuaded to pass through our mountains, then my soggy clothes would be more than worth it.