22 August, 2009

Fun With Falls

Waterfalls are a big deal to someone from Arizona. We haven't got many. Seattle, happily, is stocked with an abundance. Some of the most spectacular falls in the state are less than an hour away. Since Thursday promised to be hot and sunny, my intrepid companion and I decided to take a hike.

I've lived here for two damned years, and it's the first time I've really played in the Cascades. How sad is that? I haven't got an excuse. A short drive up I90, hop off at Exit 47, and boom, trails so easy even a sedentary blogger can hike them. It's only a one-mile walk up the South Fork of the Snoqualmie River to Franklin Falls. Head on up with me.

All along the trail, you hear the roar of the Snoqualmie River as it plunges down a steep, rocky gradient, with plenty of rapids and falls along the way. You get some pretty spectacular views of it from the trail. It's not much bigger than a creek along here - in fact, the area reminded me quite a bit of Oak Creek in Arizona. Same steep plunges with the occasional diversion into deep, calm pools by rock walls.

Of course, you don't get trees like this in Oak Creek Canyon:

Huge trees. Old trees. There's several of them scattered in amidst the smaller trees of the second-growth forest, and they definitely impress.

Their roots are holding together some pretty rubbly soil. In places, the trail is cut through the bank, and you can see the mix of sand, soil and stones that, with gobs of time and luck, may just become conglomerate rock when it grows up:

This is where my ignorance of geology in general and Washington State geology in particular becomes appalling. I'm pretty sure that's rubble from the river, but then again, it might be glacial leavings. I have no idea.

Speaking of rubble, here's a good view of the rocks the river's been playing with:

You may notice some strange reflections, as if the stones are under glass. They're not - they're not - they're under the river. That's how clear and still the water is right there. Gorgeous, eh?

So, nice amble up the trail, which is only hairy in a few places, and eventually, you come down beside an enormous shoulder of rock, and see this:

I know. Nature in all its glory, right? Hard to believe an interstate runs through it, but the I90's visible just to the left when you get further down. In fact, you can see the shadow it's casting. Here you find the perfect mix of raw nature and puny civilization - this place makes even an interstate bridge look small.

I'm not sure what kind of rock the falls are falling over. I couldn't find anything online that wanted to tell me about the geology around Franklin Falls. There's obviously plenty of it, and to me, it looks like uplifted sea bed. Teh Google provided me with a geologic map of Washington that tells me this area is a good place to see Mesozoic sedimentary rocks (look for North Bend). The North Cascades are mostly crystalline and metamorphic rocks from that era, with a few volcanoes thrown in. Further west, you'll run into a lot of glacial till and other such Ice Age stuff. Glaciers have had a good time carving up the Cascades. And you'll see plenty of weirdness, as this part of Washington state is pretty much a grab bag of exotic terranes, little island arcs and other such bits plastered on to the North American continent as various and sundry plates met their fate by getting subducted beneath the North American plate. It makes for interesting, but confusing, geology.

One thing I can tell you without doubt about the rocks here: most of them contain a fair bit of iron. The rust is the first clue.

But enough about geology for now. Let's talk rainbows:

It's misty and cool down by the falls, and with the sunshine shining, you get a pretty awesome rainbow. As far as I could determine, no leprechauns, though.

If you're enterprising, have somewhat decent balance, and don't mind getting your feet wet, you can head out into the river just down the way from the falls. There's a calm spot by the big boulders where you get an excellent view mid-river:

I do not recommend doing this during the early spring, when the river's busy getting rid of gargantuan amounts of melt water. You might just discover what it's like to be a boulder carried along by a raging river.

If you're brave enough, you can take off your socks and shoes and plunge your piggies in the water. You must have high cold tolerance. The water is clear, clean and above all fucking freezing. Even in late summer, you can most definitely tell the river's fed by snowmelt.

Here, the author's piggies are turning bright red as a prelude to going blue. Luckily, there are plenty of sun-warmed boulders to go toast your piggies on before they freeze all the way off.

Then you can freeze them again by wading into the pool at the base of the falls for a photo-op:

The falls are 70 feet high here. It's a pretty amazing thing to stand next to.

On your way out, you get a spectacular view of the rock wall the trail crawls along:

It's actually shiny. Gleaming and gorgeous and something that rather puts you in awe when you realize that all of this is basically a gargantuan wrinkle in the Earth's crust, thrown up in fits and starts with mind-boggling slowness over millions of years. Plate tectonics are amazing.

So is the power of water, which is really on display down by the slides. The river's smoothed and polished the bedrock here, cut channels into it, and carved it into fantastic forms. The colors are just spectacular: rust orange and aquamarine, with silvery-grays and light browns, all framed by tons of dark green vegetation. These are the bones of the mountain, rubbed slick by relentless water and made slippery by determined microbes:

Since you've come all this way and you've gotta head back to Seattle anyway, there's no excuse not to stop by Snoqualmie Falls:

This is what happens when glaciers mess with a river's course. You sometimes get left with 268-foot high falls. These falls are taller than Niagara, and sometimes just as intense, although obviously not miles wide.

On the way back to the freeway, you can see Mount Si towering over the valley:

Remember those exotic terranes I was telling you about? Mount Si's one of them - it's what's left of an oceanic plate volcano. And here you thought exotic terranes would be hard to spot!

This, my darlings, is why I love Washington state. Not bad for a day's wandering around, eh?

1 comment:

Cujo359 said...

Actually, I think this photo is a better illustration of what these falls look like in spring.