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Mystic Falls: Hidden waterfall in Indian Canyon Park is near Chief Spokane Garry’s final camp

Sharelle Scott and Madie Dahl and three dogs find their way down into the grotto around Mystic Falls, a spot mostly hidden from view by the foliage above. It’s in Indian Canyon Park near Indian Canyon golf course, shown Thursday, June 7. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Sharelle Scott and Madie Dahl and three dogs find their way down into the grotto around Mystic Falls, a spot mostly hidden from view by the foliage above. It’s in Indian Canyon Park near Indian Canyon golf course, shown Thursday, June 7. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Sometimes, I’m content to spread my picnic blanket among the masses on a grassy field at a local park. But more often, lesser-known places beckon to me.

Like naturalist Edward Abbey, I want trails that are “crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.”

And when the trail leads to a hidden waterfall and stories about Chief Spokane Garry, I’m willing to put up with hungry mosquitoes, too.

Indian Canyon Park in west Spokane has such a waterfall. It’s in the general area where Garry spent the last years of his life.

Mystic Falls creates a small grotto where it tumbles over a basalt cliff into a deep ravine. On a hot day in early June, the temperatures dropped as we approached the waterfall, which sent out a cooling mist.

Debbie Cole had set up her tripod at the base of the falls for a photo shoot. Though she’s a lifelong Spokane resident, Cole only recently learned about the waterfall.

“It is mystic, and it has a grandeur I would never have expected in Spokane,” she said.

The moss and other greenery near Mystic Falls reminded Cole of the lush vegetation in the Washington Cascades or even Olympic National Park. And the unspoiled nature of the spot appealed to her.

“I like to see places that people respect,” Cole said.

Getting to Mystic Falls isn’t immediately obvious. Spokesman-Review photographer Jesse Tinsley and I parked at the trailhead on Indian Canyon Drive. A short distance down the trail, we could hear the tumbling water, but we couldn’t see the falls or a path to safely descend into the ravine.

A little farther along our hike, we found several steep, unmarked trails to the falls. I grabbed a hold of sturdy branches as we inched our way down past fragrant mock orange bushes and hovering swallowtails and dragonflies.

The mosquitoes were thick in the shady ravine. Neither of us had brought bug spray.

It’s not hard to imagine Garry bushwhacking to this enchanted spot, although no marker says “Chief Spokane Garry was here.” If he did visit the waterfall, it might have been a quiet place to reflect on a life that spanned the “fur trading, missionary and white settlement eras in the region,” according a biography in Historylink.org, written by Jim Kershner, a former Spokesman-Review writer.

Garry was born around 1811 to a chief of the Spokane Tribe. In his teens, he attended a boarding school in Eastern Canada, where he learned English and French, studied math and agriculture, and became a “Bible-quoting Christian,” according to the biography.

Garry returned to the area as a young adult, teaching English and farming methods to the Spokanes. But following years were difficult ones, marked by conflicts with encroaching white settlers.

Garry tried to keep the young men in his tribe from fighting with the whites, but some joined other tribes in attacking Col. E. J. Steptoe’s 1858 expedition near Rosalia and Steptoe Butte. The Army retaliated, defeating the warriors at the Battle of Four Lakes and the Battle of Spokane Plains.

Over the next two decades, Garry tried to secure a substantial reservation on the tribe’s ancestral lands. He “spoke like a lawyer and knew how to filibuster like a congressman,” according to the biography. But the Spokane Tribe’s eventual reservation was established in 1881 to the west, near the confluence of the Spokane and Columbia rivers.

Garry refused to leave his farm just east of present-day Hillyard. After a fishing trip to the Spokane River with his family, however, he returned one day to find that a white settler had taken his farm.

Garry tried to get his land back through the courts, but he wasn’t successful. A white landowner allowed him to camp in Indian Canyon, where he died in 1892. He was about 81.

I pondered Garry’s story as I visited the falls. Before I left the ravine, I pulled out a bag to pick up litter. I collected a pacifier, two plastic water bottles, a candy wrapper and broken glass from around the waterfall. On the hike back to the car, I picked up cigarette butts.

It was a small token of respect, honoring Garry and a beautiful place.


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