We know waterfalls.

Colorado Waterfalls

Posted by Bryan Swan | April 8th, 2012

With the nickname of The Rocky Mountain State, one can fairly easily infer that Colorado is in possession of lots and lots of mountains – and one would be quite correct in that assumption.  The Rocky Mountains run north-south through the state, covering nearly half of its area, and feature 28 of the 50 highest summits in the United States.  Clearly these are not small mountains, so in following a second assumption could be made that Colorado also possesses lots and lots of waterfalls.  Yet the 8th largest state of the union – half covered with some of the tallest mountains in the country – isn’t quite the waterfall powerhouse that one might assume it to be at cursory glance.

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North Clear Creek Falls, AnotherTessCreation (Flickr)

The Rocky Mountains average 65 million years in age, so rain, snow, glaciers and ice caps have had a long time to erode down what were once much more jagged peaks to the now (generally) more gentle peaks which are found throughout the range.  This more modest topography works in direct opposition to the formation of waterfalls.  This isn’t to say the landscape doesn’t promote the formation of waterfalls, but just that there will be fewer of them than in younger mountain ranges (such as the Sierra Nevada or Cascades).  Many of the highest summits are quite broad and shallow in slope in result – perhaps the most famous, Pikes Peak, even features a road and a Cog Railway which climb to it’s 14,115 foot summit.

While the topography should in theory support a broad distribution of waterfalls across the mountains of Colorado, there are semi-isolated areas where waterfalls are more likely to occur.  Several of the sub-ranges of the Colorado Rockies feature more erosion resistant or younger bedrock and are in turn steeper.  Sub ranges like the San Juan Mountains, the Gore Range and the Front Range through Rocky Mountain National Park all feature a higher concentration of waterfalls than in other regions of the state – with the San Juans harboring the highest concentration.

Given the extensive mountainous terrain of the state of Colorado and the heavy snowpack that much of these mountains can receive during the winter, there should be quite a few waterfalls here.  Our data is almost certainly incomplete, and the 423 waterfalls we have thus far inventoried in Colorado are sure to just be a portion of the total found in the state.  We fully expect to add more waterfalls in Colorado in the future, but unlike states like California or Washington, the number likely won’t be significant.

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