If you’ve done much hiking at all, you may have noticed that it can be a remarkably verbal activity. As in speaking the spoken word. Yes, trail fans, it seems that many hikers like to talk.
I’m as guilty as anybody. Sometimes, I’ll talk with others – or to myself, if nobody else is around. I’ll offer out-loud commentary to no one in particular on whatever I happen to be seeing: flowers, birds, bugs, scenic vistas and so on. I’m sure it’s entertaining to anyone within earshot and adds greatly to the overall hiking experience.
A buddy of mine calls it “hiking out loud.”
“It’s entertaining, you know,” he told me once. “But mostly harmless, I suppose.”
Just the other day I ran across one of the best examples of out-loud hiking I’ve ever seen. It happened on one of the trails at the DeSoto Falls Recreation Area up north of Dahlonega. It was delightful, and I want to tell you about it.
But first I want to tell you about DeSoto Falls.
The star attraction at DeSoto Falls is a set of two waterfalls along Frogtown Creek, a little ways north of Dahlonega off Highway 19/129. They’re appealing waterfalls, especially the multi-tiered upper falls. Thanks to good trail access and good viewing platforms at each falls, they’re also easy to visit – and they come with an intriguing legend too.
As the story goes, legendary explorer Hernando DeSoto passed through this area back in the 1500s. That’s true. But somewhere along the way, it is said, one of DeSoto’s men lost a piece of armor. Many years later, another somebody found it – and that’s how these falls got their name.
I can’t imagine what it must have been like to hike in these mountains while wearing armor. Today, however, access to both falls is easy, thanks to a trail that starts across the creek near the informational sign and restroom at the site’s day use parking area. Behind the sign, a bridge crosses Frogtown Creek, and at the end of the bridge, a directional sign points the way to each of the falls.
Turning left at the sign puts you on a quarter-mile hike to the lower falls, a 35-foot cascade on a small tributary to Frogtown Creek. Turning right starts a three-quarter-mile hike to the upper falls, a more impressive multi-tiered cascade that drops about 90 feet.
I’ve visited this area many times; this time, I turned right, bound for the upper falls. I set a good pace too. But after a while…
“I could stand a break,” I said to no one in particular, as a trailside bench came into view. There it was – the “hiking out loud” thing again.
I sat down on the bench to rest a minute.
That’s when I saw them coming up the trail toward me – a mom and a young child.
Closer they came, and soon, they were within earshot.
“You ever hear about the lost armor?” I heard the mom ask.
“Lost armor?” replied the other. “You mean like shining knight’s armor?”
“Could be,” said the mom. “You see, once upon a time, there was a brave explorer named DeSoto. He lost some armor here, and later on somebody found it. So they named this place DeSoto Falls.”
They were nearing my bench now. I waved, and they waved back. And they kept talking as they hiked closer.
“How do you lose shining armor?” asked the child. “I lost my toothbrush once. It’s easy to lose a toothbrush, but I bet it’s hard to lose armor.”
“So maybe it wasn’t really lost,” offered the mom. “Maybe instead of losing it, they hid it!”
That notion of hidden armor seemed to intrigue the child, who walked in silence for a few yards. Then…
“Where do you think they hid it?” the child asked.
“I don’t know,” answered the mom. “Maybe there by that tree? It’s a big tree. It’d be a good place to hide something.”
Five more paces. Then…
“Stop!” said the child in a stage whisper. “Look!”
They stopped. They looked. I looked too. Sure enough, there was something metallic glinting near a tree about five yards from my bench and couple of yards off the trail.
“I found it!” yelled the child. “I found the shining armor!”
The little one forged ahead, covering the distance in no time, and then rummaged among the leaves near the trunk. He finally stood up tall and triumphant with a piece of ancient aluminum foil held in both hands.
“I found the shining armor!”
Yeah, I know. The foil probably came from somebody’s sandwich, carelessly discarded after a trailside lunch break on the very bench where I was sitting. But I wasn’t going to tell. Neither was the mom.
Instead, she said, “Wow, that’s quite a find! I’ll put it in my pack, and we’ll check it out when we get home.”
The child, satisfied at the prospect, handed over the little scrap of foil. The mom dutifully stashed it in the pack. And with that, they were off down the trail.
After a while, I got to my feet and resumed my hike. I soon reached the falls, which flowed only moderately since rain had been scarce. I took some photos, and then turned to begin my hike back
But I kept thinking about that scrap of foil.
Had there really been a piece of armor at DeSoto Falls? Who knows? Who cares?
I’ll leave matters of truth to the historians. Why? Because sometimes, fantasy is more fun. Besides, armor or not, I’ll bet that child will remember that adventure for a long time.
“Yes, a long time,” I said out loud. “And I wonder …”
Just like that, there I was, hiking out loud – again!
Learn about the hiking trails of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area in Steve Hudson’s book Hiking the Hooch. It’s available from local outfitters, from the park headquarters at Island Ford, and on Amazon. Signed copies are available direct from the author at www.chattahoocheemedia.com.