Author note: I can’t write a post about this park honestly without including my entire experience at Crabtree Falls, but I also don’t want to lure you to a post about the beauty of nature and blindside you with death. So I’m going to be as delicate as I can while still processing the fact that something truly horrible happened in front of my eyes.

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Let’s start with the beauty

As fall approaches, the crisp air has been beckoning me out of the house. I’ve had the air conditioning in my house off and windows open for days now. My plan for the day was to edit like a fiend but I couldn’t sit inside one more minute. The drive was soothing and the views were idyllic as you can see below. The road to Crabtree Falls winds you through a gorgeous section of the George Washington National Park. The roads are twisty and steep and often feel too narrow. On my way up these twisties (motorcycle lingo), I passed a bicycle race–some riding and some walking their bikes. Exhaustion and determination flowed in epic proportions. (Tell me–why do people do that for fun?)

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The beautiful road leading to Crabtree Falls

Following the signs, I pulled into the entrance of the park and stopped to grab a $3 parking ticket to hang in the window (it’s a self-serve kind of deal.) I parked in the lower lot but there are two lots and the upper one is closest to the start of the falls. As is my custom, I leashed up my four-footed friends and set off with water and camera in hand. The first falls is the picture you saw at the top of this post. Looks like a magazine shot, right? I thought so too.

We continued up the path where logs helped form stairs and, in some cases, there were actually steep wooden staircases on the path. Despite some stairs and the occasional built-in traction help, this park is not sandal friendly. As usual, I fielded a dozen comments about my dachshunds–their endurance, their short legs, and their cuteness before I made it to the steep climb.

On a humorous note, one of my dogs hates going down stairs. So for 10 minutes on the way back to the car, I was walking with a wet, dirt-crusted wiener dog under my arm which instigated even more comments regarding the dogs’ fatigue, their endurance, their little legs, and their cuteness.

The photographer I read before I left said that sunshine ruined water fall pictures. She was right. It makes a smoky film in the picture.

The photographer I read before I left said that sunshine ruined water fall pictures. She was right. It makes a smoky film in the picture.

The horrible part

Hot and sweaty, we made it to the third stop up the falls before taking a water break. I, along with a family with 2 kids and a couple of adults, were resting on a rock near the falls when a guy came tumbling down the rocky waterfall beside us and over the cliff you see at the top of the picture below. I’m a really bad judge of distance, so I’ll not speculate on how far he fell. (If you know the stats, leave a comment.) Where you see the people standing in the middle of the picture near the horizontal log is where the guy landed.  The adults standing next to me when he fell were EMTs and they were the first on the scene.

The falls visible through the trees is a sheer drop into a shallow pool in rocks below. The picture is slightly fuzzy from my hands still shaking 30 mins later. The angle of my picture does not do the steepness justice.

The falls visible through the trees is a sheer drop into a shallow pool in rocks below. The picture is slightly fuzzy from my hands still shaking 30 mins later. The angle of my picture does not do the steepness justice.

To those readers considering visiting Crabtree Falls, let me be clear that there are warning signs everywhere and even some fences up encouraging you to stay off the rocks. The park is perfectly safe if you stay on the trail. I think it’s important to note that this was where I’m 99.9% sure the guy’s fall started. There’s a fence and the rocks look deceptively dry.

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You can read a vague news report about his death here. I’ll spare you all visual and audible horror. Like many others, I left the park soon after, not feeling like continuing my hike to the top. On my way back down, I passed by his motionless body lying in the water which was guarded by the off-duty EMTs waiting for the local ambulance. Please take a moment to pray for his 15 year old brother who was at the park with him.

I don’t want to leave you with the terrible image I just relayed. So please accept my digression as an apology for the heaviness of the post.

A complete digression from Crabtree Falls

I love old things, especially their delicate yet invincible nature. This monument to the past especially caught my eye because of its mystery. The rusted doors and battered wood housed a space where a piece of someone’s life story unfolded. The faded words shadowed on the building once identified only part of what happened inside–good or bad. Offset from the rest of the sleepy town, this building sits at the intersection of railroad tracks and a two-lane road where you can breeze past at 35 mph without a second glance. It’s not beautiful to everyone. The paint on the front is worn thin and the backside is swallowed by greenery so that its presence sneaks up on you. But what I love best is how age and wear tell a mesmerizing story if you’re willing to listen. Embrace the wisdom of old things. If nothing else, don’t discount what it has survived.

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