“Faux” is French for “false” or “fake.” Faux Falls refers to the fact that it is man-made. In the summer, however, with its misty haven of coolness, it feels real enough to me. The water is diverted out of Mill Creek and channeled underneath Flat Pass through Sheley Tunnel. After the 645-foot course through the tunnel, it cascades down a series of rock ledges before plunging into a large pool. From here it makes the final dash to Ken’s Lake.
Since it’s a short drive from town, you only need a commitment of several hours to do the easy-going, partially shaded one-mile hike from Ken’s Lake to Faux Falls. To get there go south on Highway 191 approximately 7.5 miles and turn left at the sign for the Ken’s Lake-La Sal Loop Road. Continue half a mile to the stop sign at the tee and turn right on to the Spanish Valley Drive-La Sal Loop Road. Then drive about 1.4 miles, turn left on the Ken’s Lake-Flat Pass Road and take another signed left to the parking area at the lake, a popular place for swimming and fishing for brown and rainbow trout.
Around the beginning of the twentieth century Horace Sheley attempted to build the tunnel but never finished this ambitious endeavor. For decades the project languished until the early 1970s. Then a cycle of drought pressed the need for more water in upper Spanish Valley, known as Poverty Flats because of its severe lack of water. That sparked renewed interest in finishing the tunnel and building the reservoir. After years of planning, ground breaking began on October 4, 1979. Upon completion the total cost for the project was four million dollars. The 96-foot high earthen dam holds back an estimated 2,750 acre-feet of water that is used for the cultivation of approximately 900 acres of land. Final note of interest: the lake is named after Ken McDougald, former mayor and water conservancy district chairman, who was a major visionary and driving force for the project.
On a crispy-clear morning towards the end of May, I pull into the Ken’s Lake parking area. The sudden blueness is a sharp contrast to the surrounding dry land with its trademark gardens of prickly pear cactus. Upon my arrival the sun’s first rays pour across the smooth-as-fine-china water as it starts another journey across a pastel blue sky. Even in this riparian area, an early start along with an ample supply of drinking water makes for a more comfortable summertime walk.
Pausing I listen to the musical flute-like songs of several meadowlarks. Not so loquacious, a horned lark contributes a faint, tinkling-like-glass tune before taking flight.
The western kingbirds with their feisty “don’t mess with me” personalities belt out their raucous calls. These flycatchers with their lemon-yellow breasts have a steady feud going on with their neighbors. When they take flight to fend off an intruder, I catch glimpses of their black, edged-with-white tails. One of them has snagged a huge dragonfly, a mouthful that is hard to swallow. Relentlessly he beats it to a pulp as I watch wings and legs falling to the ground.
Since the spring migration is winding down, the number of waterfowl is low, but these stragglers are worth seeing. Scanning the lake with a spotting scope I spy a dozen ruddy ducks, a mixture of males and females. In their breeding plumage of a sky blue bill, shining white cheek patch and gleaming chestnut body, the males have an almost cartoonish appearance. Soon they will be involved in their “I’m the handsomest guy around” contest. In an effort to attract the females they beat their bills against their necks hard enough to create a swirl of bubbles in the water, a comical performance to watch.
A sedate eared grebe is diving for small fry fish when a male Wilson’s phalarope suddenly bursts in on the scene. Even with his nondescript, grey-tone plumage I can tell he’s a phalarope by his habit of spinning around and around to create whirlpools that stir up food. Phalaropes are unusual because the females are decked out in brighter colors. Even more bizarre is after she lays the eggs, she flies the coop leaving the male to incubate the eggs and raise the kids. Meanwhile she’s off looking for another male!
Walking along the lake, three spotted sandpipers persist in flushing out ahead of me. When they land, they don’t miss a beat in their distinctive rump-pumping dance before doing another charge across the inlet. This game finally ends when I walk away from the water’s edge.
Heading east on the Ken’s Lake Inlet trail, a very short, well-used path that connects the lake to the campground, I stop often to absorb the long distance vistas of the saw-toothed profile of Behind The Rocks on the western horizon. Then an alluring glimpse of South Mountain and Mt. Tukunikivatz to the southeast snags my attention before that alpine vision disappears behind the buttress of hardnosed sandstone protrusions that backdrops the falls.
I continue on through the campground to the billboard across from campsite 25 – the beginning of the Faux Falls- Rock Loop trails where a wooden bridge crosses an exuberant creek on its way to Ken’s Lake. Now all I have to do is follow the signs for Faux Falls on a gentle up-and-down path that parallels the creek: a water-loving habitat of cottonwoods, scouring rush, willows, goldenrod and water birch. In this brushy area the spotted towhees are in their element as they belt out their “Drink Your Tea” song.
The falls can be seen during most of my hike and can be heard long before I get there. After three long-legged steps down, I arrive to witness a rush of water on steroids! The roar is deafening as water plunges hundreds of feet ending with a free fall dive into a pool that churns around like an overcharged washing machine.
The mist glistens and sparkles against red sandstone as the whirling droplets of water cover the rocks and super-saturate the ground. The shifting breeze constantly changes the direction of this floating shower, and a hummingbird luxuriates in this delightful zone of wetness.
It takes an effort to tear myself away from this out-of-place scene of tumbling water with its turbulence, energy and motion as it bounces off the rock wall in a frenzied fury. Often I have this water park to myself and enjoy the privacy of this quick escape from the summer heat, staying as long as time allows for basking in this welcome respite of cool relief.