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Winter, spring brings seasonal waterfalls

A SEASONAL WATERFALL, above, emerges along Highway 14 in Washington.

A SEASONAL WATERFALL, above, emerges along Highway 14 in Washington. Skip Tschanz

I think my addiction to waterfalls began when I first saw the Upper and Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

The lower falls is the largest volume major waterfall in the Rocky Mountains of the USA. I grew up living on the northwest corner of the Snake River Plains where we had lots of rivers and large streams but few if any waterfalls that were over 30 feet high. When I saw the waterfalls of Yellowstone I was completely blown away.

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Even year-round waterfalls like Latourell Falls are at their best during the late winter freshet.

That was my start to becoming a hunter of serious waterfalls. My travels have taken me from Idaho’s Shoshone Falls on the Snake River to Athabasca Falls in Jasper National Park in Canada. Timing by the way is everything with these two falls. Both are best in late spring when the snow melts and fills the rivers to flood stage. Shoshone Falls at 212 feet tall makes it 35 feet taller than Niagara Falls.

If you take the combined heights of all of the above waterfalls they are still not as tall as this bad boy; Takakkaw Falls in Yoho National Park in Canada. When driving to this waterfall you will feel its power before you ever see or hear it. It’s fed by snow melt coming from the Daly Glacier that is located in a high mountain valley that is over 1,300 feet above your head. Takakkaw Falls is 1,260 feet tall with a free fall of 833 feet. The roar of the water plunging into the river below makes conversation difficult.

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A late winter waterfall blows in the Gorge winds.

This all brings me back to The Columbia River Gorge and why I love living here so much. With all of the recent snow and rain in the gorge, this has made our backyard into a waterfall lover’s paradise.

Janet and I took a drive this week and made a game of counting seasonal waterfalls, those that are active only for a short time period in the late winter. We started our count in Murdock as we drove west on Highway 14 to Stevenson. Here we would cross the bridge to Cascade Locks and then proceed to the waterfall area on Historic Hwy 30 which has the highest concentration of tall waterfalls in North America.

When counting seasonal waterfalls it’s kind of up to the counter as to what a true waterfall is and what is merely a weeping wall.

By Janet’s count we found 20 seasonal waterfalls between Murdock and Bingen and only one from there to Stevenson. While we didn’t see many seasonal falls, we made up for it in seeing several Oregon waterfalls that you just don’t see driving I-84. Wah Gwin Gwin, Cabin Creek, Starvation and Lancaster Falls are all putting on world class shows for people commuting on Highway 14.

The Columbia River Gorge is home to 70 year-round waterfalls, but only 9 of them are visible from the highway, to see the rest of them will take some foot power. This week we were able to add 11 seasonal waterfalls to that total. By the way, some of the seasonal waterfalls are spectacular. On the way home I suggest you stop at Starvation Creek Trailhead and walk the short distance to the foot of Starvation Falls. Every time I do I wonder to myself why this parking lot isn’t as full as the one at Wahkeena Falls. Starvation Falls is one of the best kept secrets in the gorge.

But timing is everything, soon the seasonal waterfalls will give way to a rainbow of wildflowers, cold blustery days will be a thing of the past. Summer is great but I will miss the theatrics of living in a wet and vertical world.

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