Not-So-Dismal Falls

About an hour west of Blacksburg in the Jefferson National Forest in Giles County, the Falls of Dismal Creek make the perfect place to splash and picnic.

I was lucky enough to get to spend the afternoon there on Wednesday, with 10 kiddos participating in SEEDS Field Camp.

The Falls of Dismal trail is a scramble downhill; just a tenth of a mile brings you from the roadside parking to the creek.  There are plenty of semi-dry boulders to sit on and creek access is easy as long as you and your kiddos are careful of slippery spots.

The falls are about 15 feet high, made of many stepped ledges of bedrock.  The falls can be climbed even by the elementary school set (with an adult) if the water flow is low.  Several campers made it to the top with my camp co-teacher helping them along the way.

Reaching the top is far from the highlight of a visit, though, as there are fish, crawfish, and salamanders to be caught, mushrooms to be found, butterflies to be watched, and cold water bathtub-style swimming to be enjoyed.

(Just don’t overtire yourself.  What was a downhill scramble is a short-but-painful slog on the way back up.)

Here are some pictures from our recent Dismal Falls visit:

The Falls of Dismal are just beautiful.  The "dismal" moniker comes from the settlers' pessimistic judgement of the area's rough, wild country, short growing season, and poor soils (shale bedrock).

The Falls of Dismal are just beautiful. The “dismal” moniker comes from the settlers’ pessimistic judgement of the area’s rough, wild country, short growing season, and poor soils (shale bedrock).

This is the view downstream from the falls.  Dismal Creek runs clear and cold.  The water appears brown because the underlying rocks are brown.  The creek is not muddy or cloudy.  Well, at least not unless you have 10 kids playing in it!  (And even then, there's little silt to kick up.)

This is the view downstream from the falls. Dismal Creek runs clear and cold. The water appears brown because the underlying rocks are brown. The creek is not muddy or cloudy. Well, at least not unless you have 10 kids playing in it! (And even then, there’s little silt to kick up.)

This small creek fish is a blacknose dace (Rhynicthus atratulis) that was captured with a small, rectangular neck of the variety usually used in fishtanks.

This small creek fish is a blacknose dace (Rhynicthus atratulus) that was captured with a small, rectangular net of the variety usually used in fish tanks.  It is swimming in our collection basin, a rectangular bucket of the variety usually seen containing dirty dishes.

This is a dusky salamander (Desmognathus fuscus) also captured with a small fish net.  It is eager to crawl out of the observation basin.  The basins we use for observation are always kept in shade and at the temperature of the stream to maintain the high dissolved oxygen levels in the water (so as not to stress out the stream creatures more than necessary).  Still, freedom is better.

This is a dusky salamander (Desmognathus fuscus) also captured with a small fish net. It is eager to crawl out of the observation basin. The basins we use for observation are always kept in shade and at the temperature of the stream to maintain the high dissolved oxygen levels in the water (so as not to stress out the stream creatures more than necessary). Still, freedom is better.

We weren't the only ones doing some fishing in the creek!  This is a fishing spider (Dolomedes spp.) staking out a good crack between rocks.  About as big as my hand, fishing spiders are sometimes described as "big, not bad".  Found near water, they prey on aquatic insects, tiny minnows (the kind seen in the observation bucket with the salamander) and other minuscule stream dwellers.  They don't frighten me, but I'm not dumb enough to poke them, either.

We weren’t the only ones doing some fishing in the creek! This is a fishing spider (Dolomedes spp.) staking out a good crack between rocks. About as big as my hand, fishing spiders are sometimes described as “big, not bad”. Found near water, they prey on aquatic insects, tiny minnows (the kind seen in the observation bucket with the salamander) and other minuscule stream dwellers. They don’t frighten me, but I’m not dumb enough to poke them, either.

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