Sunday, April 25, 2010

Great Falls Challenge

I had some spare time on a business trip to Virginia last week, so I scanned the map for something worth visiting.

I was only a few miles from something billed as the "Great Falls of the Potomac River". I am well acquainted with the Great Falls of the Passaic River (aka the Great Falls of Paterson NJ). This seemed like a direct challenge from the Great Commonwealth of Virginia to the Great State of New Jersey regarding who possessed the greatest waterfall. I rushed to the scene to investigate.

As you can see from the photo above, the "Great Falls of the Potomac River" should be renamed the "Great Rapids of the Potomac River". But they were pretty impressive rapids, and it was a beautiful day, so I pressed on.

Downstream of the rapids, I found 3 kayakers surfing the standing waves. That qualified as great.

A little further downstream, I came across a "Great" Blue Heron. (No kidding. He obviously wanted to be in the company of other great things.)

Further downstream, the river cuts a deep and narrow gorge into the rock. Above the falls the river is 1000 feet wide, and below the falls it narrows to as little as 60 feet wide. This causes frequent and dramatic flooding when the gorge gets backed up with water. Unfortunately I missed one of these great events by only a month.

Running along the river from above the falls to below the gorge are the remnants of a canal, and a small town whose residents built and operated the canal. The Patowmack Canal was the brainchild of George Washington (a great President but not a great speller). My guess is that Washington threw his silver dollar across the Potomac at the Potomac Gorge, not in his namesake town where the river is much wider.

So what's the verdict? Which falls are greater? As a New Jersey native, I definitely vote for the Great Falls of Paterson. Below is a photo for your review, taken on a very cold winter day.

You might be curious to know that the Great Falls of Paterson fall 77 feet in one shot, as opposed to the Great Falls of the Potomac, which "fall" a measly 76 feet over a length of almost a mile. Their largest single drop is only about 20 feet. In the "famous founding father" department, the Great Falls of Paterson were industrialized by Alexander Hamilton, first Secretary of the Treasury under George Washington.


  1. I'd say New Jersey... even though I leaved around Great Falls in DC/VA/MD for several years! ;o) It's one of the places we always took visitors to and they enjoyed it. A nice contrast to visiting DC itself.

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