Blackwater Falls, located in Blackwater Falls State Park, is both the highlight of West Virginia State Parks, and one of the most photographed locations in the state.
Carved out of the Homewood and Conoquenessing sandstone that makes up the Blackwater Canyon, the falls are special because of their form and changeability. The ledge is shaped like a V which points downstream. In lower water, the Blackwater River flows mainly around the outside of the edges of the V, cascading to the pool below. In addition to these two outer streams, a third cascade falls near the point of the V. In higher water, the falls become violent as the water covers the entire ledge, plunging off into the turbulent pool. During these periods of high water, the spray from the falls covers much of the lower section of the boardwalk. In the winter, the falls freeze over, creating an eerie ice sculpture.
The Conoquenessing sandstone forms the cap rock of the falls. About 230 millon years ago rivers deposited sediment into hugh inland basins that once covered what is now West Virginia. Over time more sediment was deposited on top, squeezing and changing the underlying sediment into the rock seen here today. The water falls over the Conoquenessing sandstone because it is more resistant to weathering and erosion than the softer sedimentary rocks below it. As the river flows over the Conoquenessing sandstone it constantly erodes the softer rocks below. Eventually, without the support of the underlying rock, the Conoquenessing breaks off under its own weight. In this way the drop is maintained and the waterfall migrates upstream leaving behind the canyon seen here today. The large boulders visible at the bottom of the falls were once part of the cap rock.
A waterfall is where a river or a stream, flows over a large step in the rocks and loses elevation. Over a period of years, the edges of this shelf will gradually break away and the waterfall will steadily retreat upstream, creating a gorge of recession. Often, the rock stratum just below the more resistant shelf will be of a softer type, meaning undercutting, due to splashback, will occur here to form a shallow cave-like formation known as a rock shelter or plunge pool under and behind the waterfall. Eventually, the outcropping, more resistant cap rock will collapse under pressure to add blocks of rock to the base of the waterfall. These blocks of rock are then broken down into smaller boulders by attrition as they collide with each other, and they also erode the base of the waterfall by abrasion, creating a deep plunge pool.
Types of Waterfalls:
Waterfalls that remain in contact with the underlying rock:
Cascade: generally water that flows down in small steps or stages.
Chute: A violent section of water that is forced through a narrow passage due to cliff walls or large rocks.
Fan: falls through a relatively narrow crest and spreads out and becomes wider as it descends.
Horsetail: descends down remaining in contact with the surface most of the time.
Scree/Talus: flowing over a chaotic mix of rock debris on a slope usually found at the base of a cliff or steep incline.
Slide: glides over a single slab of rock maintaining smooth continuous contact.
Waterfalls that separate from the underlying rock:
Block/Sheet: drops over a ledge forming what appears to be a "sheet" of water - usually not broken into segments and it is wider than it is tall.
Cataract: waterfall that is large, very powerful and rushes down with force.
Classical: similar to Block, but roughly equal in height and width
Curtain: similar to Block, but typically taller than wide.
Plunge: descends vertically without contacting the underlying surface.
Punchbowl: falls through a constricted area and descends down into a pool of water.
Veil: falls over rocks creating a thin layer of water that just barely covers it's surface.
Other Descriptive Types:
Parallel: falls are side-by-side and fall similar to each other.
Ribbon: descends in a narrow strip significantly taller than it is wide.
Segmented: Pieces of land segment the river (same watercourse) causing the water to fall in sections.
Slot/Keyhole: pushes through a narrow area before falling.
Tiered: Separate waterfalls falling consecutively and in close proximity so generally they can be seen together. Any type of falls can be tiered.
Twin: side-by-side but do not have to be similar in type. (Triple and more can exist as well)
Park is open from 7AM to 10PM. You will start at the parking area/trailhead at the posted coordinates. From here you will descend 214 steps to the lower viewing area. Much of the way is over wooden steps and boardwalks that may be slippery when wet. There are many signs to read along the way. The steps are the reason for the higher terrain rating. The total distance round-trip from the parking area to the falls is just less than a half mile.
For a handicapped accessible version proceed to the handicap parking area in the additional waypoints and follow the Gentle trail to the upper overlook deck. The total distance for this version is about a quarter mile round-trip.
To claim this as a find:
1. What natural resources are produced by the sandstones of the canyon walls?
2. What causes the distinct color of the water for which the Blackwater River is named?.
3. According to the signage how high is Blackwater Falls?
4. Where does the Blackwater River start and where does the water end up?
5. Take a photo of yourself and your GPS in front of Blackwater Falls at the lower viewing area or handicap overlook deck. (Optional)
6. Classify the falls using the above descriptive types.
7. Use your log to describe, in your own terminology, the amount of water flowing over the falls along with a quick description of the current weather conditions.
E-mail the answers to me (numbers 1,2,3,4,6) and include the answer to number 7 with your log within a few days. For the handicapped accessable version requirements 1 and 2 are skipped. Failure to comply with these requirements will result in log deletion.
Good luck and good caching.
- Rev Mike