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The Perfect Waterfall

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Having visited and documented more than 250 local waterfalls, I am always presented with the “What’s your favorite?” question. That is difficult given the varied personalities of the cascades. Each one is different based on its location, height, the rock face, type of water display, and any number of other factors. So, my “favorites” list gets long and complicated because the specific appeal of a certain element of any particular waterfall. And picking one is pretty arbitrary since what appeals to me might not strike you as special.

So, let’s go in another direction, one that doesn’t appeal to individual tastes but one that looks to a standard for definition – the perfect waterfall. Taking elements from many other waterfalls, I can then construct a perfect cascade:

  • Located in a “horseshoe” shaped gorge so the waterfall is showcased at one end with rock walls directing your gaze to the central water feature.
  • A free plunge direct from the lip of the falls to the base pool with no interruption. While there are many wonderful tiered waterfalls, there is just something about a plunge that exemplifies the mind’s image of a waterfall.
  • A grotto behind the plunge. Having space back behind the water flow enhances the drama of the scene.
  • A uniform water flow. Have adequate water flow to create a “ribbon” of uniform width the entire height of the falls. Without good flow, a tall cascade can turn misty and lose form before hitting the base pool.
  • An attractive base pool to “catch” the stream. Such a pool not only adds to the personality of the falls but it gives it appropriate termination rather than just splashing into a pile of rocks.

You probably have a waterfall in mind that you feel meets these criteria. And I will admit there are a number that are quite close to perfection. For example:

  • Court House Falls. Turns out only about the bottom third is actually a plunge.
  • Dry Falls. No base pool.
  • Looking Glass Falls. Comes pretty close in all categories except the roadway sits on what would be one side of the gorge so it comes across as being one-sided rather than a good horseshoe.
  • Rainbow Falls. Its height causes mistiness.

So, is there no such thing as the perfect waterfall? If so, wouldn’t it be an obvious choice? One that would immediately pop into everybody’s mind? Yes it would…if the perfect waterfall was some big, thunderous, postcard-worthy water feature. Turns out the perfect waterfall is not obvious at all. In fact it really is not all that big, only about 20 feet tall, but perfectly proportioned for all the requirements noted above: plunge, water flow, base pool, grotto, horseshoe gorge.

This waterfall is not all that well-known although it is documented in the guides. It is just a short 75 yard hike from a major US highway and about 300 yards down the highway from an extremely popular wayside. Hundreds, if not thousands of cars zip by every day without ever knowing what they’re missing.

Even the name is ideal for this miniature in perfection – Sweet Thing on Slickum.

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