River Weekend, Part II: Great Falls, Batman!
Tho the Passaic River seems tranquil at Newark, it was anything but tranquil upriver late last month and into this month. Many communities in the upper portion of the Passaic watershed were severely flooded in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, which Wikipedia says was "the first hurricane to make landfall in the state [of NJ] since 1903." Here, "upper" takes its topograffical sense, meaning upland or upriver, not its now-conventional map direction, north. Before people had a clear idea of (magnetic) north, "upper" and "high", "low", etc., had only topograffical senses, such as "High German" for the speech of German-speaking people in upland areas, or Low German for places like the Netherlands, down by the sea.
The Passaic may seem a very ordinary, minor river, but it has one extraordinary feature, the Great Falls of the Passaic, at Paterson. Wikipedia leads off its article on the Falls thus:
The Great Falls of the Passaic River is a prominent waterfall, 77 ft (23 m) high, on the Passaic River in the city of Paterson in Passaic County in northern New Jersey in the United States. The Congress authorized its establishment as a National Historical Park in 2009. One of the United States' largest waterfalls, it played a significant role in the early industrial development of New Jersey starting in the earliest days of the nation. It is part of the Great Falls of Paterson-Garrett Mountain National Natural Landmark. It has also been designated as a National Historic Landmark District since 1976. The Great Falls' raceway and power systems were designated [on the] List of Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks in 1977.
During floods the Great Falls becomes a spectacular sight, with tremendous amounts of water cascading over the falls.
I figured the Falls should be thunderous from all the recent rain, but didn't even try to get to Paterson for a couple of weeks after Irene, not knowing whether the area around the Falls was accessible. I didn't want to make a 35-mile roundtrip just to find that I couldn't get anywhere near the Falls. I figured that since the Passaic was at or near flood stage for well over a week from August 28th, the water should still, this weekend, be high, as the various tributaries and waterlogged soils shed(ded) excess water.
I wanted to go to the Great Falls yesterday right after the River Day event in the Ironbound, but the weather was dismally gray, so the liting conditions were unsuitable. I put the trip off till today. The morning sky wasn't encouraging. By 1pm, however, the weather started to clear, and by the time I reached Paterson (a 25-minute trip), the sky was glorious, and the sun ignited the Falls.
When I stepped out of my car in the parking lot across from the Visitors Center, the first sight I came to was this plaque and bell.
The bell is quite old. I don't know, however, where it originally hung.
I didn't realize, until I heard the bell ring, that the metal arm to the right of the bell allowed people to swing the bell so the clapper sounded. Even kids can do it. I rang the bell myself, and it takes a bit of an effort for an adult. A small child can, however, do it with a lot of effort, and get a rewarding clang. It's sort of like those carnival attractions where you swing a hammer to try to ring a bell atop a tall housing, but not as difficult.
This sign not far away speaks to the motive power behind early factories in Paterson, where the American Industrial Revolution began.
Some water is diverted, to this day, from the main falls to a chute just above the Falls into a power plant, the building at the left in this next picture.
Alexander Hamilton, memorialized in this statue by the Falls, did not live in New Jersey, but did form a company to commence the Industrial Revolution in the New World, in Paterson — New Jersey. Hamilton also died due to a duel in New Jersey. He was, alas, killed by a man (Aaron Burr) who was born in Newark. Not every last thing about Newark is wonderful.
The Falls were (was?) plainly heavier than usual, but some rock outcroppings were still visible. Were they always, even at the height of the flood produced by Hurricane Irene? I showed the normal flow at the Falls in fotos here on August 16, 2008. Judge for yourself. I had remembered the Falls as pretty impressive, but when I reviewed them now, they show a Falls that is puny as regards the Falls in the weeks after Irene. Here's a foto from August 2008.
And now one from today.
The archway and flag beautifully frame and complement the view. The Falls would not be nearly as appealing without them. So the presence of civilization makes the Falls more attractive than they would be in the wilderness.
Unfortunately, the massive rains had produced massive amounts of garbage carried over the Falls to circulate in relatively stationary eddies below the Falls.
In the next foto, the statue of Alexander Hamilton appears to be looking in the wrong direction, not toward the Falls. The statue actually faces the hydropower plant, in which Hamilton might be more interested than the scenic but unharnessed part of the Falls. Still, I would rotate the statue toward the scenic Falls. That can, of course, be done physically, even now.
I took some pictures from the street-level, elevated outlook, then started for the curving, paved path down to a grassy area near water level. Just before the entrance to that path are these trailers, which suggest a construction site, but I saw no sign of construction being underway.
The elevated Haines Outlook is not far enuf west to see the right side of the falls past the cliff southeast of it. You have to walk westward on the sidewalk or upper lawn, and then it seems you are too far away.
There is scaffolding around the power plant, and this foto, centered on a (basket?)ball floating amid trash near what should be outflows from the power plant, shows no sign of water rushing out from the power plant, so perhaps that generating station is completely out of service at present. It has been in use as an electric generating plant in recent years, so people who favor renewable energy must hope it will be restored soon. A skimmer boat needs to be deployed to take all the trash away, and recycle or reuse various items such as tires and rubber balls.
In this foto, you can see the mist thrown up by the Falls.
The authorities have, stupidly, erected a high (nearly 7-foot), chainlink fence near the water's edge that obstructs the view from the lower level. I had to climb up onto a sturdy picnic table (green-painted concrete?) to take fotos that cleared that fence.
I then walked out of the southern overlook park, and up and west on the sidewalk along Wayne Avenue, to the area that leads to the pedestrian bridge shown above. Along the way, visitors can see this low, damlike structure, whose function I do not know. Perhaps it is to smooth the waters before the entrance to the power plant.
Then you get to a pedestrian bridge over the Falls gorge, from which you can see the Falls up close, and its magnificent rainbow (or, the evocative Spanish term, arcoíris).
In this next foto appears a faint second rainbow above the brite first.
The metal arch that you see from the Haines outlook is not for the pedestrian bridge, which is relatively lite, but for a relatively heavy clean-water pipe.
This pipe is probably 28 or 30 inches in diameter, and parallels the footbridge, but closer to and blocking the view from, the Haines overlook. So here we have a kind of man-made river over a river.
I started to take a video, because fotos fail to capture the energy of the site, but after a mere 49 seconds, the video cut out because of a weak battery! After that, the camera could take still fotos, but not video. I should have charged the battery fully before leaving the house, and/or brought the charger with me to run in the car. Now what? I could look for a Radio Shack or Best Buy to purchase an additional battery, but I don't know that area. I decided to take stills as long as I could, then ask at the Visitors Center where I might buy a new battery.
I walked up the east side of the Great Falls park and down to a narrow viewing area very close to the edge of the Falls.
Some of the stairs were in bad shape, a tripping hazard — and thus a financial hazard to the City of Paterson, State of New Jersey, or even Federal Government if this area is now part of the National Parks System.
The area at the base of the stairs was very muddy. Surely ruf-textured concrete blocks without mortar between them would be a much better way to surface that space than just leaving the natural dirt, which could be expected to turn to mud much of the time because of the omnipresent spray.
In this foto appear some lite-brown areas of the Falls that you might think are dirty water. They seem in person, however, to be lite-colored rock seen thru reasonably clean water.
The sun was high behind the Falls, which at once produced a dazzling effect and softened the scene beyond the mist that bounced the lite around, obscuring much of the detail past it. "Obscure" might not be the most appropriate way to express this phenomenon, because, etymologically speaking, "obscure" means "dark", whereas here it is the briteness of the mist in the sun that causes difficulty in seeing beyond.
The keepers of the park have let trees block part of the view from the little outlook toward the northern end of the Falls. They should cut that vegetation back or completely away.
Wikipedia also says:
The Falls are viewable from Haines Overlook Park on the south and Mary Ellen Kramer Park on the north. Drive-by viewing is available from McBride Avenue where it crosses the river just above the Falls. A footbridge over the Falls gorge (historically, the eighth such bridge to span this spectacular chasm) also serves as an exciting outlook point from which many have captured the famous Falls rainbow. A visitor's center at the corner of Spruce and McBride Avenues, in the heart of the Great Falls Historic District, provides a historical overview of the falls and the industrial and cultural history of Paterson.
I didn't know there was a northern outlook. I'll have to look for it the next time I'm there. And I will be there, sooner or later. It's a wonderful place to see, and simply be. I would also like to get a better and longer video, not just from the footbridge, but also from the narrow, eastern observation point, edited together, with enuf time for viewers to get a sense of the power and, paradoxically, peace of the waterfall. There is, in the Falls, enormous energy, but also mentally restful constancy.
After dropping over the cataract, the waters of the Passaic make a sharp left to proceed down to Newark and out to sea.
Viewing the Falls, a fotografer is tempted to take foto after foto after foto, all to no new effect, because each will look pretty much identical to each other. I have seen video of fotografers snapping multiple shots with little movement between, which I never understood. But you still want to press the shutter button many times, to try to capture the magic of the falling, bouncing water, dazzling in the sunshine. You get home and look at the pictures, and cannot see any difference worth a second, third, or higher capture. But you knew when you pressed the button that what you wanted to capture was wonderful. Cameras cannot capture magic. The magic of the Great Falls is in the mind of the viewer, and hearer, who experiences the Falls. If I lived within walking distance of the Falls, I might be there 100 times a year, in all weather and liting conditions, just to experience it. We should move the Great Falls to my neighborhood. I could use the meaningless, mind-emptying wonder of falling water, a noisy, endlessly changing spectacle of water in movement. Indeed, perhaps I should recharge my camera's battery, erase all fotos and videos, and record nothing but 20 minutes or so of the wonder that is the Great Falls of the Passaic, by means of which people on the Internet might free themselves of all demands and reset their minds to the actual pace of Nature, which is very, very slow.
The Visitors Center was, for whatever reason, closed. I don't know if it was open for 2011's summer season but then closed at Labor Day, the arbitrary and unreasonable end to "summer" that so many people go by, even tho astronomical summer — the only real "summer" — doesn't end until early morning on September 23rd, this coming Friday. The curl of the sign shown below suggests an earlier closing date. Why?
As instructed by that sign, I drove down the hill one block to Market Street and made a left to the Paterson Museum, to inquire as to where I might find a Radio Shack or Best Buy, and to use a lavatory. For perhaps the only time in my life, I was made to feel welcome even if I did not make the "suggested donation" of $2. I was, after all, there only to inquire about a Radio Shack or Best Buy, and to use the men's room. But the very nice (Hispanic) man at the desk seemed genuinely more concerned that people see the Museum than that they pay an entry fee. Good thinking.
I made a quick tour of the Museum, which is all on one big floor, and heavy on mechanical devices, from looms for the textile industry to airplanes and racing cars, to Colt pistols, to a full-size early submarine, all with a Paterson connection. There is also this locomotive out front on the Museum grounds. There is almost no art, except for a fine statue, perhaps 1⅓ life-size, of a rugged man with a Colt rifle.
I did not think to ask the gent at the front desk about whether it would be alrite to take fotos, and frankly was not in the mood to do a more extensive tour of the Museum, being instead eager to get a new battery for my camera and return to the Falls to do a comprehensive video of the Falls from different outlooks. Unfortunately, I could not fully follow the directions he gave, because part of Market Street (yes, another Market Street, probably also derived from Philly's, as is ours) near what seems a magnificent City Hall building, was blocked, perhaps for a street festival for people from the Dominican Republic (there were lots of Dominican flags in evidence). I could see that street fair blocks down the hill from City Hall. I tried to go around the obstruction, but couldn't find the Radio Shack, so gave up and headed home.
There was a model toward the front of the Museum, of a proposed improvement to the Great Falls area, that included boats, like the enormously powerful Maid of the Mist boats that approach the base of Niagara Falls. That's a wonderful idea, if feasible. I would go. I have ridden the Maid of the Mist toward the base of Niagara Falls, slicker over me and all, and loved it. Of course, the debris below the Falls will have to be cleaned up before any tourboats can navigate toward the base of the Falls.
I present, finally, the 49 seconds that my video of the Great Falls did capture before my battery said, "No más". The screenprint below should be clickable, or you can go directly to the video's location on Blip.tv: http://blip.tv/el-craigo/great-falls-of-the-passaic-5579928.