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Jonathan Stull | 04.27.2017

A waterfall is a place of violent contrasts, a symbol of simultaneous chaos and serenity. In Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road, the man and the boy find reprieve in the waters below a waterfall amid a post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland. Jaguar Paw leaps from the top of a waterfall in order to escape Mayan warriors and return to his home in Apocalypto, and so does Dutch to escape the Predator in the eponymous film. The breaking of the Fellowship occurred at the Falls of Rauros, where Frodo and Sam crossed the River Anduin while Boromir’s body fell into the oblivion below the cascade.

We visit waterfalls to awe over their erosive power, the overwhelming noise of their cascades, and the unexpected beauty of their contrast: a world most often frozen in time where arboreal stalwarts stand motionless in the backdrop of a constant swirl of frothy waters. For this week’s installment of the #52WeekAdventureChallenge we celebrate the waterfall, and there’s no better time to do so than the spring. During this season the spectacle is at its peak, when the sun shines and the snow melts, bringing from the mountain passes the melting snow of winter passed. Every time it does, these places grow more spectacular.

Waterfalls form in a variety of ways: differential erosion of the rock, horst-and-graben crustal stretch, the gradual erosion of limestone, or violent erosion from external processes. Perhaps the most violent conceived is the last of these, exemplified by the historic Dry Falls of eastern Washington. Though long dry, the waterfall at the end of the last Ice Age is thought to have been more voluminous than the combined flow of all modern day rivers. Glacial Lake Missoula, dammed by the ice of the Cordilleran Ice Sheet, spanned 3,000 square miles, and drained over Dry Falls when the ice dam broke—as it did several times between 20,000 and 15,000 years ago. In an instant, water poured over Dry Falls, cutting the Columbia River Gorge and inundating the Willamette Valley all the way to Eugene.

These days the ice sheets have retreated (too far) and the waterfalls are far more peaceful. The West holds some of the most beautiful on the North American continent, and they are ready for your exploration.

Washington

Oregon

California

Arizona

Utah 

Idaho

Wyoming

Colorado

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