Monday, October 12, 2015

Earth Science Week - Michigan's Largest Waterfall

Happy Earth Science Week!

Earth Science Week is a national and international celebration of the earth sciences (geology, meteorology, oceanography, and astronomy).  It is organized by the American Geosciences Institute and has been celebrated since 1989.  The mission of Earth Science Week is to "promote understanding and appreciation of the value of Earth Science research and its applications and relevance to our daily lives."  This year, Earth Science Week is being celebrated October 11 - 17.

Over the past few days I have been attending the Michigan Alliance for Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE) annual conference in Sault Sainte Marie, MI.  On my way to the conference, I took an hour-long detour to visit one of Michigan's most popular earth science destinations - Upper Tahquamenon Falls.

Upper Tahquamenon Falls (brink view) - October 2015

Upper (and Lower) Tahquamenon Falls are located on the Tahquamenon River near the village of Paradise in Luce County.  Tahquamenon Falls is close enough to Mid-Michigan to be a long day trip.  The falls are approximately 3.5 hours away.

Upper Tahquamenon Falls is one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi River.  The Upper Falls formed in a location where there is a transition between hard and soft sandstone types.  The river cascades over a layer of hard sandstone before carving out a canyon though the underlying softer layers.    The falls are nearly 200 feet wide and drop almost 50 feet.

Upper Tahquamenon Falls (brink view) - October 2015

The waters that cascade over the falls are stained dark by tanins from nearby cedar swamps.  In the Spring, the rate of flow over the falls has been recorded at nearly 50,000 gallons (nearly 190,000 liters) per minute!  The flow during my visit was much less, but still impressive.  I have visited during periods of much lower flow.

Upper Tahquamenon Falls (gorge view) - July 2007
The most impressive view of the falls is from a boardwalk at the brink of the falls, but the best view of the falls is from a pair of observation decks near the bottom of the canyon.  A warning to visitors:  there are more than 80 stairs down to the falls and more than 110 stairs down (and back up) to the canyon observation decks.

Upper Tahquamenon Falls (gorge view) - October 2015

Although I did not visit them during this trip, there is another series of falls a few miles downstream from the Upper Falls.  Lower Tahquamenon Falls drops approximately 20 feet over several ledges around an island that divides the river.  Here is a photo of a portion of the Lower Falls from a 2007 trip.

Lower Tahquamenon Falls - July 2007

If you are visiting Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Tahquamenon Falls is a must-see destination - even more so if you are fan of interesting geology.

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