Enjoying some new adventures in nature

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Swallow Falls State Park
Swallow Falls State Park in Garrett County, Maryland, offers spectacular scenery and the highest free-falling waterfall in Maryland. (Julie Geiss photo)

I know of a place that can only be described as heaven on earth. It’s a well-guarded secret; I don’t tell many people about it. Without a doubt, it’s absolutely my favorite campground. We have made a pilgrimage to this safe haven once a year since my oldest was a baby. I know where to find the most rainbow trout and crayfish. I also know the easiest place to plop down in the river for a relaxing float downstream.

Something new

Imagine my surprise when my husband dared to utter the phrase, “Let’s try somewhere new this year.”

After 20 years of marriage, I had to wonder if he knew me at all. Apparently, he has mastered the art of persuasion because he was able to talk me into going to a new campground.

We settled on visiting western Maryland, a beautiful area with mountain passes and picturesque towns tucked into the valleys. After some research, we chose Swallow Falls State Park in Garrett County, Maryland, for our camping trip.

I have a weakness for waterfalls; I will trek for miles just to sit near a waterfall and listen to the sound of water crashing into rocks. At a staggering 53 feet, Muddy Creek Falls is the highest free-falling waterfall in Maryland.

We were ready for a brand new adventure — well at least some of us were ready. The campground is nestled among trees providing 65 spacious, well-shaded sites.

Spectacular scenery

We rode our bikes down to the main entrance and the start of Swallow Falls Canyon Trail. The trail is only 1 1/4 miles but the scenery is spectacular. It passes through the Youghiogheny Grove Natural Area where hikers can witness old-growth hemlock and pine trees.

The area has never been logged, allowing some trees to age 300 years and collectively form an impressive canopy. The pristine environment made it easy to imagine what the area must have looked like centuries before our time.

The trail split in several areas providing options for hikers to visit several different spots along the Youghiogheny River and Tolivar Creek. My kids rushed ahead, scurrying over fallen trees and rocks as quickly as deer that call the forest home. I lumbered along more like a black bear.

Instead of animal tracks, we left impressions in the mud of our thick soled sandals designed for water and slippery surfaces. Feeling like outsiders, we had to scan the area and learn the ins and outs of river shenanigans. The bed of the river is solid, sloping rock in many areas. Other visitors were gliding in the river current until they reached a deeper area where they were able to swim and play. We joined right in on the fun by wading into the warm river.

Swallow Falls

Then with careful maneuvering, we made our way upstream until we reached the bottom of Swallow Falls. The cascading water flows over layers of sandstone and shale. The rocks created perfect seats for us to sit and enjoy back massages provided by the water.

After flowing downstream in the current again, we cautiously approached the second waterfall, Lower Swallow Falls. Erosion created a deep plunge pool at the base which also happened to be a popular swimming hole. My kids were too eager to jump over the 8-foot waterfall. My husband jumped first and then came back to help each of the kids.

Then he looked at me; I am the poster child for cautious behavior. Jumping off a waterfall was certainly out of character, but I made the bold decision to fling my body over the ledge before I changed my mind. It was so exhilarating that I jumped two more times. Of course, visitors are advised to keep careful watch of water height and swiftness, especially after rain and storms.

The trip back along the trail was also enjoyable, as we took our time admiring the blooming rhododendrons and azaleas. As we headed back to our campsite that evening, it seemed that all excess energy was finally spent. We relaxed together around our campfire. After eating a s’more, I leaned contentedly back in my chair. “I can’t believe I jumped off a waterfall today,” I said aloud, but mainly to myself.

Trying new things can be uncomfortable. Usually, nature makes me feel peaceful, and I soak up serenity like a sponge. Surprisingly, I was able to experience and enjoy thrilling forces of nature as well. Perhaps my husband is right — we can try a new place every 15 years or so.

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Julie Geiss lives with her husband and four children in Unity Township, Ohio. Faith and family are first in her life, but she also loves hiking, biking and camping. You can contact Julie at juliegeiss1414@gmail.com.

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