Waterfalls

Upper Mesa Falls on the Henrys Fork inspires thousands of visitors each year with its power and beauty.


Spring sunshine is already persistently decaying the snow in the high mountain peaks. The snow becomes waterlogged, then when it can hold no more, the water runs freely over, under and through the snowpack. It gathers momentum as tiny rivulets join forces and soon streams are bursting and hundreds of waterfalls churn briefly to life. They bounce and cascade off the sides of the mountains in splendid displays waning only as the snow recedes.

There are permanent waterfalls though, ones that will run so long as there is water in the rivers and streams. Waterfalls often stir a mix of emotions. They are at once supremely powerful and unforgiving while inspiring us with their beauty.

Waterfalls start when gravity calls water from higher ground to lower ground. If humans had designed this process, water would flow in an even grade like a railroad track all the way to the valley floor and waterfalls wouldn’t exist. Nature though, is more thoughtful, creating conditions where waterfalls can form.

Many waterfalls are created simply because the falling water finds the path of least resistance down a steep mountain. Plunging off existing cliffs is just part of the game. Other waterfalls though, form when there is a hard surface, such as lava, on top, underlain by a softer material such as limestone. The durable top layer resists erosion, but once exposed, the underlying material is worn away, undercutting the top layer and forming a “cave” behind the waterfall. In these situations, the waterfall actually migrates up stream over time as the upper layer slowly erodes. For instance, Cumberland Falls in Kentucky has moved over 45 miles upstream over several million years.   

We may be interested in knowing which is the largest waterfall in the world. As for height, there is no doubt that Angel Falls in Venezuela is the tallest, with a vertical plunge of 3,212 feet.

After that, things get murky fast. Just how do you measure the largest waterfall when each is so different? If total width is the criterion, then Khone Falls on the Mekong River in Laos gets top billing. It is a total of 35,376 feet wide, a figure helped out because the river splits into seven channels at this point. However, this waterfall is more of a cascade with only a 69-foot drop.

Is some combination of vertical plunge and width a better measure? If so, then Iguazú Falls on the border of Argentina and Brazil is a contender. This amazing falls is only 8,800-feet wide but plunges 269 feet. Or consider Victoria Falls, located on the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe, and often claimed as the largest waterfall in the world. It trades a bit of width for height: 5,600-feet wide with a plunge of roughly 344 feet into a gorge.

Yet another measure is which falls has the highest volume of water passing over it. In this case, Niagara Falls, separating New York and Canada, reigns supreme. Over six million cubic feet (45 million gallons) per second pass over the combined falls. Niagara also gets the most visitors, as many as eight million people each year enjoy getting doused with Niagara spray.

It doesn’t really matter though whether a waterfall is tall or short, wide or narrow or how it was formed. Each has its own charms and that is really what nullifies the saying; If you have seen one, you have seen all. There is always power and unique beauty that brings a calm to the human spirit and that alone makes them worthy of seeking out.



Help Idaho Wildlife

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure. 


"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), The Best of Nature is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 

here

Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center (425 Capital)

Perfect Light Photo Supply

Work Wearhouse

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho