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In 1966 I backpacked to Basaseachic, the lovely, little-known 1,000-foot waterfall in Mexico's Sierra Madre, west of Chihuahua, and almost died there. It was clean and primitive then. Now off-road vehicles have brought visitors, and some of them have hacked it up with dirty campsites and cut trees.
A small creek makes the waterfall. It falls the full 1,000 feet through the air—not really a bridal veil, more of a long white ribbon, a wonder of nature, charming rather than stupendous.
My fellow hiker was a friend named Newton Sikes, then and now a ranger in the National Park Service, backpacking in Mexico to get away from his office. A logging truck brought us to the general area of the fall. We didn't know where it was exactly, and accepted vague, conflicting directions from dirt farmers, housewives and boys walking home from school.
But we did find it, after plodding pleasantly for a day or two through fine April weather. Beyond a village called T�nachic there were no more roads, just trails. They linked little mountain farms whose pale gray dirt was being plowed by yokes of oxen. Where two trails crossed we found a general store in a hut with an inventory worth perhaps $12: cigarettes, soda pop, matches, aspirin, thread. The store's owner was a woman, bearing up under a bad headache.
How far, we asked her, was the village of Basaseachic? "If you're walking tired," she said, "you'll get there after dark." We were uncertain, not tired. Her directions were confusing, like everyone else's. So before sundown, we made camp.
A fine spot: a pine grove beside a pretty stream. We put thick mats of pine straw under the canvas floors of our tents, and piled more against the sloping sides for insulation. April nights are cold in the Mexican mountains. Water, boiled in our cooking pots after supper, was usually iced over by sunrise, sometimes an inch thick. But it was worth thawing for our canteens because we liked the wood-smoke flavor better than the municipal-swimming-pool taste of water purified with Halazone.
The stream we camped beside that night turned out to be the one that made the waterfall. We followed it the next day, crossing it on rocks, wading it when we had to, wondering if we were in the wrong valley altogether. Then, about 4 p.m., we realized that all the imprecise directions had somehow canceled each other out and brought us to Basaseachic.
You come to it from upstream, so your first awareness is not of the waterfall but of the gorge beyond, into which it pours. The canyon floor you walk on is clean rock, with the stream moving briskly in a trough it has cut down the middle. At the brink, the water goes silently over the edge, turns white, changes to slow motion and falls as delicately as the efflorescence of fireworks through the air.
We camped that night on the bare rock, some 30 feet back from the edge. It was an uncomfortable, vainglorious choice of a campsite, but we wanted to say we had done it. The wind spun around in the chasm below, at times blowing some of the waterfall back over the rim and onto our tents. It sounded like a series of little hard rainstorms, each lasting about five seconds.
The next day was sunny as usual. Spring in the Sierra looks like autumn because it is the dry season. Things don't turn green or wild flowers bloom till midsummer, when it rains.