Being a Hoosier through and through, many of my desert adventures revolve around the search for water.  Some years ago, I saw the reference to a waterfall on a map of the southern flank of the Rincon Mountains.  Ever since that day, I haven’t been able to find that same reference, almost as if the waterfall dried up and disappeared.

Based on my best recollection, it was time to try to find this distant memory.  I set off on a checker board of dirt roads only to be turned back by locked gates.  As frustrating as it is to be blocked access to public lands, I eventually decided to ignore subtle warnings and hoof it in by foot.  Donning my camera, water bottle, and jacket, I set forth on a beeline towards Chimney Canyon.  From a distance, there is nothing that would distinguish this canyon from the many other washes.  As I followed an overgrown double track, I eventually entered a small canyon and its watercourse.  As I proceeded upstream, there was a small water flow in the creek bed and eventually, I reached an old rancher’s shack and a well.  The water troughs were full of water which seemed to indicate the property was still maintained even though it was on Federal Wilderness land.  It would have been a humble abode for a recluse.

Another couple of hundred yards above the shack, the running water disappeared beneath the sands which explained the strategic location of the cattleman’s well and cistern.  While it might have been tactical for the rancher, it was discouraging for a waterfall searcher.  Nevertheless, I continued upstream hopping from rock to rock until the canyon split, leaving me the decision to go right or left.  The boulders seemed larger on the right, but so did the visual prospect of running water so I headed east.

I was no longer hiking or hopping from rock to rock, but rather climbing and scrambling between massive well-worn Freightliner-sized obstacles from above.  The stream bed was dry as a bone – hardly an encouraging sign for me.  Nevertheless, I picked a spot 100 meters above me and decided that would be my turnaround spot and the end of the trail.  Without success, my south flank waterfall search would have to wait for another day.

I scrambled up to my predetermined spot, turned around to see the gorgeous downward scene, and as a paused, I heard something, an unexpected sound, a faint but clear sound of falling water!  Reenergized, I quickly oriented myself towards the sound to make sure I wasn’t imaging it.  After a few steps, upstream the sound became more distinct even though it was still out of sight.  Encouraged by my auditory discovery, I climbed over the next set of stair-step sarsens to finally view a small cascade of melting runoff.  While the water reemerged in the stream bed, it was also clear that this little cascade was not the source of the falling water sound but rather a remnant of the flow.  Nevertheless, high above me, I could see a likely cleft for my concealed waterfall.

After a little more rock climbing, I finally came into view of a stunning 70-foot free falling waterfall coming from the ridgeline above me.  Even more stunning was the cavern that sucked up all the water!  Just to the right of the drop zone was a grotto which siphoned all the water from the falls and spit it out through a small hole on the other side of the cliff!  It begged further exploration!

To reach the small drain hole, I had to climb a 10-foot cliff face of erosion polished rock.  Being very careful, I finally eased myself into position to see inside of the cave.  The cavern included a quartz stripped rock room about the size of an SUV and a pool of crystal clear water which appeared to be about 5 feet deep.  With light from water’s entrance, I could easily see the bottom, but clear water has a way of magnifying its depth.  I carefully snapped some photos and decided to climb another 15 feet above me to reach the water drop zone.  The smooth granite rock reminded me of the power of water during high flows.  It was obvious that monsoonal rains backed up inside the cavern and spilled out a different watercourse creating this treacherous ascent above me.  Using every climbing technique I knew, I smeared my body over the slick rock and somehow managed to reach the small plateau at the bottom of the waterfall.  From there, I could easily see the entrance to the watery grotto.  The water had carved out a small trough which efficiently feeds the cavern with precious water.  As the cistern filled up, the water coursed out the small hole on the other side of the pool.  During high flows, it would spill over the route that I had come.  What a fascinating place to find from a long forgotten map.

After a prolonged examination of my discovery, I realized that my departure would be harder than my arrival because of the precarious location of my position.  At first, I thought it would be safer to climb up above me to a ledge, but the consequences of a misstep seemed to outweigh the difficulty of down climbing my ascent path.  Ultimately, a 10-foot fall seemed more survivable than a 40-foot fall!  Slowly and carefully I was finally able to work my way down to the bottom without incident.  I then traversed to the opposite side of the canyon so I could capture the entire scene in a single frame.

As the afternoon waned, I finally needed to retreat from my special spot down the gorge, over the boulders, and back to my truck.  It seemed easier going down, perhaps because of my euphoria and augmented by my desire to beat the sunset.  On my return trek, I passed the shack and later crossed over a fence only to come face to face with a large and protective bull.  Like a guardian over his range, his menacing horns reminded me of my trespass which motivated a quicker step.

By the time I reached my truck, I felt accomplished.  My memory had served me well, I had found water, and I discovered an unusual and striking waterfall on the south side of the Rincon Mountains.

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