Out to Thunderbird Falls

Out to Thunderbird Falls

Michelle and I went for a short hike today, to a spot I had never been in the ten years I have lived here.  I have driven by the exit to Thunderbird Falls many times as I headed out or in along the Glenn Highway, but never cared to go there.  I think it was because it is such a short and accessible hike, I feared – rightly so – that the trail would be overrun with people.  But there was also a certain creep factor for me connected with the place.

About a year before I moved here, 29-year-0ld Bobby Pfister was partying with his friend Jamie Douglas and a couple of lady friends, drinking and doing cocaine according to news accounts, when they decided to go for a 2 a.m. stroll on the trail to the falls.  Then, without warning, Douglas shot Pfister in the back, then twice more as he lay on the ground.  Douglas stowed the body under some leaves, twigs and moss about a mile from the trailhead.  Douglas was caught a few days later as he tried to catch a flight out of Anchorage.

I read about the case as I was working in the court system when I first moved here.  The descriptions of the murder, the partying, and the fact that police called it a “thrill killing” made me think all too much of the movie “Natural Born Killers.”  It simply turned me off to the spot.

But, the bad mojo of the past was not in the air as Michelle and I hiked up to the falls through the woods in a beautiful early-autumn day.  Rather, it was the hordes of children and dogs, along with their clueless adults, who detracted.  As we hiked and photographed along the way, we encountered constant streams of people coming to and going from the falls.

Now, I am not one of those conservation, outdoors-types who believes that public lands should be his own personal playground and everyone else should stay out.  Quite frankly, that type of person is a myth created by those who want public lands privatized for their own commercial gain. Our preference, though, for a hike in the woods is one of quiet and contemplation, to enjoy the time away from the noise of the city.  But the shortness and ease of the hike makes it perfect for families with small children.

Fortunately, I was still able to capture some images that show the character and quality of the place.  And good thing, too; I will probably choose to go back again at a time when it is not quite so busy.  Perhaps a minus-twenty winter day would work.  Or maybe after the viewing platform for the falls is open again to the public (it is currently under construction).  It was hard to photograph the falls up close and personal with all the spray coming from the falls.

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