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Watson Creek Falls flow with the seasons

Shelton-Mason County Journal of Shelton, Washington

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In the middle of all this rain we've been having, it seems hard to reconcile that last August, only five months ago, the Olympic Mountains were a hot, dusty hunk of earth, straining to make it through the tail-end of a record-breaking draught.

I am sure everyone, especially those who gardened, can conjure up an image of what the draught was doing to their world.

For me, I remember three things.

First, the leaves on wild rhododendrons were drooping like ears on a Bassett hound. The summer heat seemed to be sucking the very life out of the smaller bushes, their limp leaves ready to fall.

Second, the Sunny-side Road fire of Aug. 27, and the way hundreds of onlookers pulled off in the dark along the Skokomish Valley Road. People stared in silence or spoke solemnly as they witnessed the wildfire engulf the hillside, spreading its walls of flame, trees crackling and exploding in orange bursts.

I remember cows calling in the dark near the river.

My other distinct memory was noticing that Watson Creek had run dry.

Watson Creek runs behind the historic Hamma Hamma Cabin and for a short distance it parallels the Living Legacy Trail. It is where I first tried canyoneering, climbing into the creek bed about 10 years ago at the spot where the old Civilian Conservation Corps bridge once spanned the creek.

Despite a rat's nest of a logjam that nearly threatened any more pursuit of the sport, I was soon enticed by the sound of falling water, a sound that grew louder as I pushed up the creek.

My reward was in "finding" lower Watson Creek Falls, which, I would soon learn, was at the end of a short and easy access trail I had passed many times while hiking the Living Legacy Trail.

I had simply found it the hard way.

As some readers will know, a second waterfall lies a short scramble above the one in the photo. Push past more boulders and fallen logs and you'll come to an abrupt end to the canyon. Here, overhanging ledges create a cave-like pool. A slim white ponytail of water hugs the right canyon wall, spilling around giant mossy rocks before splashing into the grotto.

It's pure paradise.

Of course, without water it's not even worth the trip. Watson Creek Falls fluctuate greatly throughout the year. The dramatic "V shape of the lower falls, photographed in November, is many times stronger than its typical summer flow.

In the summer you can climb the sides and jump about 10 feet into the deep end of the pool. Or sit on the logs and dangle your feet in the water. Yes, it's cold but both upper and lower pools make for decent, if not lengthy, splashing, swimming and heart-pounding fun.

A sweet flat spot across from the lower falls makes a perfect perch for picnics, blankets and photos.

Find the sign for the Hamma Hamma Cabin about 6 miles up the Hamma Hamma Recreation Area access road (FS 25). Park at the bottom of the hill or along the road from where you came, noting the crosswalk for the Living Legacy Trail.

Take the trail north, up a short climb to the cabin, with Watson Creek on your right. After you come to a resting area with an interpretive sign, continue towards the cabin. Just before the cabin parameter, a small trail branches to your right. You should pass an old outhouse on your left.

This is the Watson Falls trail, barely a fifth of a mile.

Respect it immensely, especially the Forest Service covered cistern and water piping system for the cabin.

The falls and their precious resource, water, once formed the core of a large Civilian Conservation Corps encampment, a place where America regained its bearings during the Great Depression, and young lives were forever transformed.

It is also one of Mason County's most spectacular pockets of beauty.

Care and respect ensure it stays so.

Mark Woytowich is a writer, photographer and video producer who lives in Potlatch. He can be reached at

Copyright 2016 Shelton-Mason County Journal, Shelton, Washington. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: January 21, 2016

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