My son and I had just been talking about how people we encounter now seem a lot more reserved and self-protective than they were before the Coronavirus “lockdown.” I was saddened by how often people seemed more inclined to look the other way rather than have any interaction at all.
I noticed this almost everywhere I went, even out on the hiking trails. Where in the past people would greet fellow hikers, say hi and smile, now, people passed with their heads down as if acknowledging other human beings might in some way infect them.
Does social distancing have to include emotional and personal distancing too? Do we have to shut others out entirely just to keep ourselves situationally safe?
When we went to find Hidden Falls in St. Paul, MN. I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to interact with people as if they were infectious. I wanted to break the eery silence. I decided instead to honor physical distancing but cut through the social distance that seemed to threaten our ability to see each other as human beings.
Hidden Falls park has very few signs, so it made sense for me to ask the first person I saw after parking if the trail ahead of us led to the falls. An older gentleman was playing toss with a young boy near the edge of the Mississippi River. When asked, he responded that he didn’t know of any “real” falls around there. He said there used to be some falls on the other end of the park, but that they weren’t much to see anymore.
I remembered then that I read a review earlier in the day talking about the lack of signs leading to the falls and looked it up on Google to see if the reviewer gave any directions we might use to get us started.
And indeed, they did.
Tracy’s Travel Tip: When you want to know more about hiking, biking, boating, or any other aspects of using certain national, state, or regional parks, online reviews can sometimes contain important clues for hidden gems of information when nothing else is available.
So the review I found told us to head off past the picnic shelter and take the right-hand trail toward hidden falls. It explained the left-hand trail would lead us down to the river and along the banks before coming back to the park.
Passing through the parking lot near the shelter, a few people seemed to be setting up for some kind of picnic. We passed the shelter and took the second path we saw. A bike with only one tire was chained to a tree right at the trail entrance. The path led into the woods where the ground was still very muddy from the Spring rains.
We came to an area that looked like the “fire swamps” from the movie Princess Bride – a favorite in our home for years. We spent time playing with the pano feature on the camera to try to capture the immensity of the raw flat area that seemed kind of spooky.
Onward we hiked through the woods for about twenty minutes, until we came out at the Mississippi River. It seemed like we made a mistake. At that point, we passed two women with dogs and a young boy. I didn’t hesitate. I asked them if they knew about the falls.
They told us they too were looking for them and had started at the first trail directly ahead from the parking lot. Obviously not the right one either as they would end up where we began.
I explained that we’d come from the direction they were heading and hadn’t seen the falls…yet. We both wished each other good luck and went ahead in the direction the other had come from. We passed another couple wearing masks who had no idea where the falls were hidden either.
And then finally, while crossing a bridge over a creek, we asked a dark-skinned man walking solo if he knew anything. He said yes, he’d been to the falls earlier that day and he pointed in a direction over his shoulder to the left. “It’s up over there,” he said.
We thanked him wondering if we might have taken the left-hand trail referred to in the review and that maybe there was another third trail, more to the right than where we’d begun. It seemed we’d have less distance to go if we continued onward rather than turning back, so that’s what we did.
Shortly, we ran into a couple and a young girl who were also looking for the falls. Everyone was searching! We chatted for a few minutes and I shared what the other gentleman had told us. They seemed thankful for the tip and continued in the direction from which we’d already come.
When we got back to the picnic shelter, sure enough, we found a third trail to the right of the one we’d originally taken. In a very short hike, I could hear the falls ahead of us. We came to a place where a tree had fallen, blocking the path. On closer inspection, the tree broke across the bridge leading directly to the falls…definitely hidden!
Once past the bridge, we found the falls easily!
The best time to see the falls is in the Spring, especially after a rain. In the late summer, lack of rain reduces the waterfall greatly.
Now a quick rundown (reverse engineered from how we discovered it) on how to find the falls easily. When you drive into Hidden Falls Regional Park, look for this small sign on the right.
Just past the sign is an entrance into the trees. There you will see two sets of steps that lead to
a larger stone staircase…massive, 99 steps to the bottom where the falls are off to the left. There are other cool man made features to explore there as well.
The fun part of this whole adventure was running into other hikers we’d met earlier who also found the falls like we did. Getting there was like a scavenger hunt which is always more fun when lots of people are looking! If it hadn’t been for Coronaviru, we might have shared a high-five.
Leaving the park, I remarked how I think it’s important for us (me) not to blame others for the lack of social interaction if we’re (I’m) not willing to make the first move. I chose to make the first effort and it improved my experience a little.
I still think “social distancing” has changed us a little and it’s going to take some effort for all of us to be comfortable with each other again. But I take heart in knowing love will not be contained for long.
Hugs friends, until…
Tracy, a girl on her own