Posted by Bryan Swan | December 31st, 2012
So remember that release schedule we published about 8 months ago? Clearly that never happened. Long time visitors to this website are probably familiar with our less-than-reliable update cycle – an unfortunate byproduct of not being able to dedicate full time resources to the project. Everything we said we’d be posting will still be posted, it will just take more time than expected is all. So, that said, we’ve got our first major update in many, many months.
Kaaterskill Falls, one of New York’s tallest
New York State, long associated with and known for perhaps the most recognizable waterfall on earth – Niagara Falls – is actually brimming with waterfalls. Literally hundreds and hundreds of waterfalls. Part of the reason it took us so long to post this update is because (thus far) only three other states in the US harbor more waterfalls than New York (those being Washington, Oregon and California). To date, we have cataloged 910 waterfalls in New York State which meet our criteria, and it is almost a certainty that more will be added in the future. Some accounts suggest New York may harbor as many as 2,000 waterfalls – though this would more than likely require a very liberal definition of “waterfall” which would expand outside the bounds of our requirements for listing in the database.
So why does New York have such a high density of waterfalls? The simple answer is glaciers. At one time much of New York was covered by the Laurentian Ice sheets which extended from the Canadian Shield and across the great lakes. Multiple finger glaciers extended off the edge of the ice sheet and carved out the valleys in the Allegheny Plateau which now harbor the Finger Lakes. As the predominant geology in the area consists of Sandstones and Shales – both fairly easily eroded rocks – streams which descend into these valleys have been able to carve numerous canyons and gullys, frequently with waterfalls found throughout their lengths. The Hudson River likewise carves through similar beds of easily eroded bedrock, resulting in a deep, broad river valley with numerous tributary stream which are trying to keep up with the erosive power of the Hudson. In result, numerous waterfalls occur where these tributaries drop to join the Hudson.
In the northern part of the state, on the other hand, the Adirondack Mountains dominate the landscape. Formed mostly out of Gneiss and intruded igneous rocks such as Anorthosite, the Adirondacks are essentially an extension of the Canadian Shield. The much harder rocks in this area have allowed much taller mountains to dominate the landscape, and with that added relief comes waterfalls. As the Adirondacks were likewise covered by the Laurentian Ice sheet, the landscape was ground down and left pockmarked. The numerous depressions quickly formed lakes as the ice retreated, all of which function to fuel the numerous streams and rivers in the area. Where these streams exit the range, waterfalls tend to occur en mass – this can be seen particularly well along the Grass, Beaver and Moose Rivers along the western edge of the range.
One big caveat to searching out waterfalls in New York is that there are numerous instances of waterfalls located within private property. Many of the waterfalls found throughout the state will not be accessible to the public, and in order to assure both continued public access to those waterfalls which are accessible to the public, and to ensure property rights are respected, we ask that you be mindful of any Posted or No Trespassing signs which may be encountered. If you are seeking out a waterfall and find such indication, turn around. The high density of waterfalls in the state, and easy access in many cases has led to numerous fatalities by hapless visitors. When this occurs on private land, the landowner could be held liable in some cases, and in such a litigious society as this, that will ultimately be a situation in which no one wins. In following, if you are aware of a waterfall which occurs on private property which isn’t indicated as such in our data, please let us know so we can make the appropriate notation.
On a final note, regarding waterfalls which occur along the border between two different Countries – such as Niagara Falls – our database currently doesn’t have the ability to list one waterfall as occurring in two different countries, and though we have a temporary workaround in place, those who attempt to view our data based on any of the counting criteria may not see the entire data which should be displayed because of this issue – for example, currently Niagara Falls does not appear in the list of New York’s tallest waterfalls, but it does appear in the master list of waterfalls in New York (it currently redirects to data which lists it in Ontario). We are quite aware of the issue and will be addressing it in the next couple of weeks, if not sooner.
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.
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.
Posted by Bryan Swan | April 7th, 2012
Just in time for waterfall hunting season to shift into high gear in the Sierra Nevada, we’re breaking down for you where to find the 10 Best waterfalls in the state of California. Now, anyone who is familiar with the waterfalls in California should know that this list will basically be Yosemite National Park-centric, since the falls found there are so far above and beyond 99.9% of the rest of California’s waterfalls. But there are a couple of exceptions, so read through to see what else makes the cut:
Horsetail Falls, click for more
While maps indicate otherwise, Horsetail Falls does its best to convince visitors that it actually is located in Yosemite National Park. Situated along Pyramid Creek as it flows out of the Desolation Wilderness to the west of Lake Tahoe, Horsetail Falls lives up to its name as it skips and slides 791 feet down the polished granite valley above Twin Bridges. The falls are prominently visible from Highway 50 between Twin Bridges and Phillips, but its scale and power cannot be adequately appreciated without hiking a relatively easy 2 miles to the base of the falls.
With a sheer drop of 1,612 feet, Ribbon Fall is the tallest recorded free-falling waterfall in North America. This claim to fame alone makes it a noteworthy waterfall to seek out when visiting Yosemite National Park, but while Ribbon Creek is a seasonal stream which usually runs dry by July, Ribbon Fall can exhibit an impressive volume of water during the spring melt – during some years it can rival Yosemite Falls in terms of sheer spectacle – and it should in no way be thought of as a minor waterfall.
Perhaps the most well known of California’s waterfalls which are not located in Yosemite National Park, Feather Falls is a spectacular cataract which hurtles 410 feet into the North Fork Feather River canyon just upstream from where it empties into Lake Oroville. The falls can range from an explosive, thunderous plume of water during the spring months to a more delicate lacy veil during the late summer, but with a significant drainage basin feeding the falls, there is ample water to justify the 3 1/2 mile hike that a visit mandates at any time of the year.
Ribbon Fall, click for more
Essentially the neglected middle child of Yosemite Valley’s waterfalls, Illilouette Fall is the most consistent waterfall found in the valley. Fueled by the largest tributary to the Merced River the falls thunder 370 feet into a narrow side canyon below Glacier Point, below which the stream cascades steeply among huge boulders for another thousand feet. While the falls are partially visible at a distance from the John Muir Trail heading towards Vernal and Nevada Falls as well as Half Dome, to appreciate it in full one must start a 2-mile hike from Glacier Point and the lengthy detour necessary to achieve this goal is enough to keep the majority of the valley’s crowds away.
You’ve probably never heard of this waterfall for a couple good reasons – it’s sort of out of the way and it’s been regulated by the Shaffer Lake Dam so that Stevenson Creek runs dry for a portion of the year. However, during the snow melt, when the creek bursts from its banks, Stevenson Creek puts on a spectacular show, plunging into the San Joaquin River Canyon in a massive 1,200-foot tall, 4-stepped waterfall which quite literally sprays right onto the road. In fact, when the creek is running at its peak, the road is actually closed because of all the water falling onto the road. This also makes it very difficult to see the entire waterfall at peak flow, since the shortest approach to the falls requires crossing the bridge. Unfortunately it’s canyon also makes viewing the entire waterfall difficult, but what can be easily seen is quite jawdropping in its own right.
Jumping back to Yosemite for the final five entries finds us at what is perhaps one of the most recognizable waterfalls on earth – the Merced River’s Vernal Fall. The 200-something foot tall, 80-foot wide falls are nearly as famous for being a deadly attraction as it is for being one of the most powerful and scenic waterfalls in the United States. Drawing thousands of visitors every year, the falls have racked up a startling death toll thanks to those who stray beyond the safety railings. This unfortunate statistic speaks to the dangers that waterfalls pose and the respect that people must bestow upon the power of water, and Vernal Fall is quite visually a reminder of exactly how powerful water can be.
Bridalveil Fall, click for more
If there is one image synonymous with California (other than the infamous Hollywood sign at least), it has to be the spectacular vista from Yosemite National Park’s Tunnel View, punctuated by the delicate plume of Bridalveil Fall as it sprays 620 feet into Yosemite Valley in a perfect free-falling plunge. Though visitors who make the easy walk to the base of the falls might not so easily describe it as “delicate” since the falls can send forth a blinding wall of spray during the melt season that makes photographing the falls up close a near impossible task until the water level has waned considerably. Fortunately there are literally dozens of other locations to appreciate this impressive cataract without having to deal with the elements.
Nevada Fall marks the beginning of the Merced River’s descent into the Yosemite Valley proper and it does so in gratuitous style, plunging then smashing onto an angled apron of rock and veiling for the final half of its roughly 480 foot descent. With the considerable volume of the Merced present in the spring, Nevada Fall is in all likelihood the most powerful waterfall in California, but even with the immense drainage basin the river can shrivel and all but dry up by the autumn months thanks to the lack of soil to retain ground water in the basin above. Those who visit the falls in the spring and early summer months would probably find this to be an astonishing fact considering how much water moves down the falls earlier in the year.
The Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park is essentially devoid of visitors when compared to the summer overcrowding seen in Yosemite Valley itself. Those who do visit the valley will see the immense cataract of Wapama Falls thundering over 1,300 feet into the Hetch Hetchy, billowing up such an immense volume of spray that even though seeing the falls up close is easy, taking a picture is nearly impossible. So much water descends Falls Creek in the spring time that the trail to the falls has to be closed because the bridges are over-topped by the booming stream as it cascades down below the falls.
Yosemite Falls, click for more
As if there could be any doubt, Yosemite Falls is not only the best waterfall in California but arguably the best waterfall in the country (we’ll debate that topic at a later date). With a cumulative drop of 2,425 feet Yosemite Falls is widely regarded as among the most significant waterfalls on the planet and features one of the tallest free-leaping drops in North America. This waterfall was largely responsible for inspiring John Muir, James Hutchings, Lafayette Bunnell and many other early visitors to push for protecting Yosemite Valley. It is an attractant of tens of thousands of visitors annually, and it maintains this regal stature and status despite the fact that it does not flow all year long.
Posted by Bryan Swan | March 25th, 2012
We’ve just posted our data set for the State of Nevada, which we know to harbor a whopping
22 24 waterfalls. Given that Nevada is the driest state in the United States, averaging something like 9 inches of precipitation per year, this may or may not seem like a lot of waterfalls depending on where you stand. Most of Nevada’s waterfalls fall within two very clustered areas – the Ruby Mountains in the northeast corner of the state, and the Spring Mountains just west of Las Vegas – with a handful of other falls scattered around the rest of the state, some near the Sierra Nevada in the Tahoe area, others seemingly quite out of place in the middle of the undulating Basin and Range formations in the middle of the state.
While most of the waterfalls in the Spring Mountains are ephemeral in nature, not flowing for more than 3-4 months out of the year, some of them are considerably noteworthy given the fact that the landscape is essentially desert. Big Falls, Little Falls and Mary Jane Falls in Charleston Canyon are among the most well known waterfalls in the state (largely due to the proximity to the Las Vegas metro area), though despite all three falls likely dropping over 100 feet, because they effectively only flow during snowmelt events, they are not at all well regarded outside of the immediate Las Vegas area.
The Ruby Mountains, on the other hand, harbors much greater potential. Situated in the heart of the Great Basin and surrounded by desert (really, most of Nevada is) the Rubies actually receive a considerably amount of snow in the winter months, ensuring that the many streams which drain down from above flow for a consistent length of time. In following, the best waterfalls in Nevada are found in the Rubies, though the region is so sparsely populated and rarely visited that there is very little documentation on exactly how many waterfalls may be found there.
Since we don’t have a great deal of information on the waterfalls in Nevada, we will not be posting a “best of” or “most interesting” list at this time, but it may come in the future as further research can be conducted. But as a parting note, we’ll mention that perhaps the most interesting fact about the waterfalls in Nevada is that none of the waterfalls which occur within the state are found along streams which have above-ground outlets to the ocean. The eight waterfalls known to occur in the Las Vegas area fall along streams which sink underground well before their respective streams can enter into tributaries of the Colorado River near Lake Mead. But in all areas north of Las Vegas, all watercourses drains directly into the Great Basin and abruptly end there, with no outlet and in many cases not even a lake to show for it either. So where does the water go? Nobody knows for sure but it’s likely that much of it percolates underground and emerges in springs along the Colorado Plateau in Utah and the Columbia Plateau in Oregon and Idaho.
Posted by Bryan Swan | March 15th, 2012
Yes, after much deliberating, writers block, and countless hours of procrastination, our list of the Top 100 Waterfalls on the planet is finally complete and posted in its entirety. As we’ve said before, keep in mind that this list is totally arbitrary and based largely on our subjectivity. The reason we didn’t base this list around our rating system off the bat is we didn’t (and still do not) have enough information at the launch of the new website in order to generate rating information for enough of the waterfalls which should make this list, all other things considered. As we build our data further and further, we will generate the information needed and at that time, we will implement a separate page listing the Top 100 waterfalls based on our rating system, but this may be a year or two out, so you’ll just have to take our word for it in the mean time. And we sort of know what we’re talking about, so our word should be pretty good.