waterfall

Posted by Ellen

In the wintry weather currently gripping eastern North America, icy mounds of frozen spray, known as sugarloaves, are growing huge atop frozen rivers below not-quite-fully-frozen waterfalls. There's a sugarloaf at the base of Niagara Falls this year, and also one at Montmorency Falls near Québec City; the falls at Montmorency are some 98 feet higher than Niagara and are located almost a thousand kilometers to the northeast, in a climate zone where every winter is plenty cold enough to make a sugarloaf.

The painting shown above, The Ice Cone, by Robert Clow Todd, shows Montmorency Falls and its sugarloaf in the winter of 1845. The place looked pretty much the same when we visited, in the winter of 2004, minus the horses, of course.

Tall, cone-shaped things with slightly blunted tips are often called sugarloaves, especially if they are ski resorts or a mountain in Rio de Janeiro with a statue on top. That's because real, old-school sugarloaves–actual hard, solid loaves of refined sugar–were produced in molds shaped like that. Up until the end of the nineteenth century, when manufacturing processes emerged to refine sugar into a granulated product, people who could afford to buy white sugar–meaning rich people–bought it by the loaf, which might weigh as much as 30 or 35 pounds. They chipped off pieces as needed, using heavy, sharp-edged pliers known as sugar nips.

The sugarloaves pictured below are on display in the Sugar Museum in Berlin.

Posted by Ellen

In the wintertime, Franklin Falls, in the Cascade Mountains about 60 miles east of Seattle, takes on a dual personality.

The main cataract at the center of the waterfall flows too fast and furious to freeze up tight; it roars and splashes and spits spray all winter long.

But closer to the edge, the waterfall's trickles and drips crystallize as icicles, which pile up through the winter months into layercakes of glittery, frothy ice. And this year, by mid-December, the ice at Franklin Falls was ready to be climbed.

Our man of the mountains, Hank, showed up there then with his buddies and their gear: ropes, crampons, ice axes, and optimism. They were climbers who knew their way around in the mountains, who'd put in their time conquering knife-edged ridges and post-vertical cliffs and glaciers and whiteouts and whatnot. 

None of them, as it turns out, had actually climbed a frozen waterfall before. But they must have seen it done on YouTube. They were pretty sure they would be able to figure it out.

And they did. We heard that it was a little bit scary but pretty fun, actually.

Posted by Ellen

On a crisp October Saturday, deep in the Loyalsock Canyon of World's End State Park, you have to wait on line for your turn to take pictures of the waterfalls.

Ordinarily, creeks and waterfalls have shriveled to a trivial trickle by this time of year. But after a wet, wet summer and then the floods of Hurricane Irene, waterways throughout Pennsylvania are putting on a show.

Posted by Ellen

History has not recorded the name of the first person to light a fire in the little grotto behind the waterfall in Shale Creek gorge, now part of Chestnut Ridge Park recreation area in Erie County, New York, near Buffalo.

Despite the name of the place–Eternal Flame Falls–neither the flame nor the waterflow is perennial. Shale Creek is an intermittent stream, drying up to a trickle except during snowmelt and days of very heavy rain. The methane gas that fuels the flame is always present–it is produced by rotting vegetation trapped in the shale, and it bubbles up through fissures at several places along the creek, notably into a natural alcove large enough to keep the flame dry behind the watery curtain of the falls. But the flame does go out sometimes, if the wind is gusty or the waterflow especially drenching.

The greenish-gray rocks here are part of a formation called Hanover Shale, roughly 380 million years old. Where this shale is at or near the surface, as here, any gas it contains will simply ooze out into the atmosphere, making it economically worthless; in places where the Hanover Shale is buried deep underneath other rocks, however, its gas is trapped under great pressure and may be worth drilling for.