Cataract Falls Trail is a gorgeous hike along the Cataract Creek in the Mount Tamalpais Watershed area. Unlike many other trails in Northern California with strong sunlight flaring over the head, most of the Cataract Falls Trail is inside the woods with occasional cool breezes.
Last Sunday, I took on the Cataract Falls Trail for the first time. After getting off Highway 101, we drove through an unincorporated community Fairfax towards the Cataract Trailhead. Fairfax has a neat downtown full of historic houses. As the Fairfax-Bolinas Road became more and more wavy, those houses gradually disappeared with the replacement of open wilderness. Occasionally, I saw cars parked on either side of the road near some trail entrances.
Back in time on Alpine Dam
When the glittering light from the lake was dancing on the car, I knew the Alpine Dam was close. After watching the TV show Devs, visiting the Alpine Dam filmed in the show was on our to-do list. Characters Kate and Lyndon meeting at the dam marked a major development that turning Determinism into a computer-generated world.
Standing on top of the dam and looking down, I saw layers of rust and a marble lake at the bottom. Waves of winds passed by, whispering the history of that place. As it was first built in the 1910s, Alpine Dam had two raises of the water capacities. Today, Alpine Dam plays a vital role in the drinking water supply of Marin County. I wished the winds were the machine in Devs, winding me back in time to the history of the construction.
Hike in the woods
Not far from the Alpine Dam lies the Cataract Trailhead. Lines of cars were already on both sides of the road when we arrived. The entrance of the trail was next to the blue clear Alpine Lake. A group of teenagers were listening to music on the shore. They reminded me of the scene of the Sweetwater River swimming hole in Riverdale, where high school students often visited in the summertime. However, swimming is prohibited in Alpine Lake, because the lake is used to support freshwater to Marin County.
With a short walk from the start, the first waterfalls came in sight. The surrounding started to turn into a forest setting with tall trees and wildflowers. Listening to the waterfalls washing over the rocks, we continued to climb up along the cascades of waterfalls.
At the interaction between the Cataract Trail and the Helen Markt Trail, we turned into the Helen Markt Trail to avoid crowds of hikers. It was a lightly trafficked and quiet route inside the woods. Although I could not see any wild animals, they seemed to be active in every direction. I heard birds pecking and insects communicating with each other. At one point, we went off the designated trail hoping to get to the top of a hill, but only found ourselves surrounded by fields of wild iris.
Explore a historic town
After a few hours in the woods and falls, we headed back to Fairfax to explore this historic and colorful town. Blue cafes, yellow stores, and pink restaurants nearly lined up in the downtown area, smiling to each passby. People were shopping on the street, drinking and socializing in the outside dining areas, and relaxing on the public benches.
We joined the line for the famous Fairfax Scoop, an ice cream shop with locally sourced ingredients. It is a tiny store with a yellow painted wall, with the menu hung on a tree in front of the store. More people walked into the store to order, more people joined the line for ice cream. This waiting line never ended.
It was an irony to me that the Dentistry of Fairfax is right next to the ice cream shop. I could not help but wonder the reason why. Maybe it is a reminder of dental health, or people could use a break at the ice cream shop after the dentist’s visit. It seemed to me that Fairfax cares about people’s health and their happiness in life.
About half an hour later, we sat down at the patio of Gestalt Haus, of which the facade was a mural art listing all local businesses’ names on a tree. It seemed to me that local stores, restaurants and family-owned businesses are rooted in the vitality of the town. They witness people to grow and nourish the local community.
By enjoying the mango serrano sausage and grapefruit sour beer from Gestalt Haus, I found myself immersing in the unique flavors of a local restaurant which could not be found elsewhere. I guess this was the story the art tried to tell.