Really, the only redeemable aspect of my Number One Son being four hours away at George Mason University, is the fabulous excuse of being able to re-visit my favorite Northern Virginia and Washington D.C. destinations, and “by the way” stop for a visit to see his handsome face (and bring cookies and clothes)! This past weekend we drove up to see him, and to visit Great Falls National Park, a favorite site from high school choir gatherings many years back.
The Potomac River, which we saw earlier in the summer placidly winding its way past Mount Vernon’s lofty bluff, starts out in West Virginia and Maryland on its course to the Chesapeake Bay. After cutting through the Blue Ridge Mountains at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, the river rolls along until fourteen miles upstream from Washington D.C., at a place called the Potomac Gorge region, the river violently changes level 60 feet in the half mile stretch called the Great Falls. This is the “fall zone,” where the river moves from the Piedmont’s erosion resistant stone and into the sandy soil of the coastal plain of the Atlantic Ocean. The Great Falls are the steepest fall line rapids in the United States. Enormous boulders and jagged stretches of metasedimentary rock jut up across a chasm with 50 foot walls making for great drama, and danger, even with the water level substantially lower than I’ve seen it in the past.
Boulders are strewn along the hilly shore line providing opportunity for those who like a rock scramble to climb around, although one must resist climbing near the falls. A variety of walking paths border the picnic area, one of which traverses rocky terrain that offers climbing opportunities but not as death-defying as the smooth slippery stones along the river. Kayaks occasionally run the rapids, but you must make arrangements in advance, there is a $5,000 fine for illegally entering the water – it is quite dangerous – and the park service prominently posts pictures of regions where fatal accidents have occurred. One can also make arrangements to rock climb on the walls of the Mather Gorge – the calm portion after the Great Falls!
The park was quite busy with tourists of many nations and all ages enjoying the overlooks, the paths, climbing rocks and gathering for awesome smelling cook-outs! There is a Visitor Center with a museum, gift shop, and snack bar, but a tremendously disappointing restroom, the only downer on this National Park visit.
All things considered – a wonderful day! The leaves just starting to turn, the sound of rushing water, the sky a deep and brilliant blue and our family together again, for a little while.
Links to Great Falls National Park Resources
Here is the page with Junior Ranger booklets (highly recommended)
Here is a brochure with a little more information about the Potomac Gorge
If you are interested in the geology involved in the fall line – here is a link to a geologic map.
Finally, this You Tube video by Inspiration Studio shows a few brave white water rafters, as well as other beautiful areas of the park, and amazing shots of water birds:
Thank you for reading! We have been visiting quite a few waterfalls this year. Here are a few other posts about our waterfall hunting!
Wonder and Awe at Linville Falls and Relaxing on a Rock at Locking Glass Falls.
This post is part of the ABC’s of Homeschooling link up at The Momma Knows, and the Blogging through the Alphabet link up from Marcy at Ben and Me. I’ll also post this at Field Trip Fridays over at the HSBA Post. I encourage you to click over to the link-ups and see what other homeschool families are doing! One of the many rewarding aspects of homeschooling is the tremendous sense of community among homeschool moms, and the encouragement and helpful tips that are generously shared!