Frozen Waters Two: Iceland

May, 2014

IMG_0657The 269 named glaciers in Iceland cover 11% of the land, or over 4,000 square miles. Almost every type of glacier is represented on this small island nation. All of their drinking water comes from glaciers, and it does taste quite good.

Many of Iceland’s glaciers lie atop volcanoes. When a volcano erupts here, the lava doesn’t always reach above the ice. In 2014, Popular Science Magazine interviewed Benjamin Edwards, a geologist at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, who explained that “if the lava stays contained within the ice, the biggest hazards will be local flooding. (These volcano-triggered glacial floods are called jökulhlaups.)”

Just take a drive around Iceland, and you will see several glaciers. Every glacier includes “jökull” in its name. This word comes from Old Norse, and means glacier, or a mountain covered with snow and ice.

To get up close and personal with a glacier, we hopped on a bus and headed to Jökulsárlón, a glacial lagoon that is fed by Breiðamerkurjökull, which is one of the 30 outlet glaciers of Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Iceland.

Vatnajökull, which means “water glacier” in Icelandic, is an ice cap glacier, that is, a miniature ice sheet, covering less than 50,000 square kilometers (19,305 square miles). Vatnajökull covers 3,127 square miles, with an average thickness of 1,300 feet. It sits atop at least seven volcanoes.


Breiðamerkurjökull has been retreating since 1890. Land movements in the mid-19th century blocked the water’s passage to the sea, thus creating Jökulsárlón. It’s possible that future land movements could unblock the lake and it would be drained. As the glacier retreats, icebergs are calving and drifting through Jökulsárlón on their way to the North Atlantic Ocean. Their movement fluctuates with the tide currents and the wind. Once they are small enough, they finally make their way under the Glacial River Bridge and out to sea.

Breiðamerkurjökull calving into Jökulsárlón

Jökulsárlón has been featured in several movies, including two James Bond movies:  Die Another Day and A View to a Kill. It was also featured in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. The lagoon does not freeze because of the inflow of salt water from the North Atlantic. For the movie Die Another Day, it was allowed to freeze over by blocking the flow of of ocean water into the lake.

Jökulsárlón’s icebergs near shore and drifting out to sea

We took an amphibian boat (aka duck boat) tour with Glacier Lagoon. We were close enough to the icebergs to touch them if we wished.

These icebergs look dirty because they carry volcanic ash from recent eruptions like that of  Eyjafjallajökull in 2010.


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Frozen Waters One: New Zealand

February, 2014

A glacier is a slowly moving river of ice. Its own weight causes the movement. In fact, to qualify as a glacier, the ice must be thick enough to sink and move on its own weight. Glaciers form where the accumulation of snow exceeds the melt off, or ablation. Most of earth’s glaciers are found in the Arctic and Antarctic, but they are also found in mountain ranges. They are found on every continent, and on some high-latitude islands like New Zealand or Papua New Guinea. Glaciers cover about 10% of the world’s land, with over 5 million square miles of ice.

The aqua color that we often see in glacial ice is due to the fact that air bubbles are squeezed out of the ice, causing it to become denser, and making the ice appear blue. Also, like ocean water, the ice reflects colors at the blue end of the spectrum, while absorbing colors at the red end of the spectrum.


Note the blue color in the crevasses

The National Snow & Ice Data Center lists twelve types of glacier: mountain, tidewater, piedmont, hanging, cirque, ice apron, rock, ice shelf, ice field, ice cap, ice stream, and ice sheet. The glaciers on the South Island of New Zealand are categorized as mid-altitude mountain glaciers. Mountain glaciers develop in high mountainous regions, often flowing out of icefields that span several peaks or even a mountain range.

There are over 3,000 glaciers on the South Island, most of them in the Southern Alps mountain range in Fiordland National Park. New Zealand’s glaciers have been retreating since the late 1800’s, and the rate of retreat has accelerated since 1920, and several of the retreating glaciers have created glacial lakes. A few glaciers have advanced, but the loss of glacier mass far exceeds its creation. We are fortunate to have seen them when we did.

While visiting Milford Sound on the South Island of New Zealand, we had an opportunity to take a flight from Milford to Queenstown that passed over several glaciers. This was my first view of glaciers anywhere, so it was very exciting. There are several glaciers in the area, and we may have seen any of these: Rob Roy, Jura, Dart, Donne, Olivine, Mt. Tutoko, or Grant. Why wasn’t I taking notes!!

On a side note, Milford Sound is not a sound at all, but a fiord (New Zealand spelling). A sound is formed when a river valley is flooded by the sea, a fjord is formed when a glacier retreats, and sea water fills the resulting valley.


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Falling Waters Twenty-Five: Wrapping Up

This is the final post in my waterfall series, that is, until I see some more. I believe there were about 70 so far.

January, 2016 – The Big Island of Hawaii

Akaka Falls State Park, located a few miles north of Hilo, is home to two waterfalls, Kahūnā and Akaka. As you walk along the path, you will be treated to some smaller waterfalls before you arrive at the main show.

Akaka Falls is a 442 foot waterfall located on the Kolekole Stream. In the Hawaiian language, Akaka means a split.

Kahūnā is slightly smaller, at 400 feet. It’s also more hidden, and thus difficult to see in its entirety. IMG_5395

On an earlier visit in February, 2011, we took a helicopter ride over Mauna Loa volcano, where we saw some more lovely falls.

August, 2017 – Winnewissa Falls, Pipestone, Minnesota

This lovely little waterfall is located in Pipestone National Monument in the southeast corner of Minnesota. Winnewissa comes from the Dakota verb “winawizi,” meaning to be jealous or envious.

The falls are situated in the pipestone quarry at the Monument. Native Americans have come here for thousands of years to quarry the Catlinite stone for ceremonial items, particularly pipes. The stone is still quarried, and you can purchase your very own pipe here at Pipestone.


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Falling Waters Twenty Four: Multnomah Falls, Oregon

July, 2018



Some of the approaches to Multnomah Falls were closed following the wildfires of 2017.  The waterfall, itself, was evacuated for a while. There is a parking lot next to the falls that fills up early. We beat the crowds by getting there by 8:30 am. That was fortunate, because the lot was full just a few hours later. Over 2 million people visit the falls every year.

This is the tallest waterfall in the State of Oregon, with a total drop of 620 feet, It first drops 543 feet into an upper plunge pool, meanders another 8 feet, then plunges another 69 feet to the bottom. The flow is usually highest in the winter and spring. A sign at the site claims that Multnomah is the second tallest waterfall in the United States, but the evidence does not support that. Even if it isn’t the second tallest, it certainly is stunningly beautiful, and well worth a visit.

There is an observation bridge, the Benson Bridge (built in 1914, and named for the man who owned the falls at the time) that passes in front of the first drop. At this point, there is a path to the top of the falls, but that has been closed due to rock slides. Work is being done to make these paths safe again.

Upper Fall and Plunge Pool

Lower Fall and Multnomah Creek

Multnomah Falls is one of 77 waterfalls on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge. This waterfall developed about 15,000 years ago, on Multnomah Creek, which is fed by underground springs from Larch Mountain. Beneath the falls, the creek empties into Benson Lake, and eventually into the Columbia River.

According to a Wasco legend, the waterfall was formed after the daughter of a Multnomah chief sacrificed herself to the Great Spirit to save their village from a plague by jumping from the cliff. After her death, her father asked the Great Spirit to give a sign that his daughter had been welcomed into the land of the spirits. Almost at once, water began to flow over the cliff, creating the waterfall. Another Native American legend says that Multnomah Falls was created to win the heart of a young princess who wanted a hidden place to bathe. Personally, I prefer the first story.

Multnomah Falls were noted in journals by Lewis and Clark during their 1805 expedition, when they traveled through the Columbia River Gorge.

While you’re in the area, and are interested in some magnificent views of the Gorge, pay a visit to Vista House, situated on a bluff 723 feet above the Columbia River.


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Falling Waters Twenty-Three: Washington State’s National Parks

July, 2018

Mount Rainier National Park is home to over 150 waterfalls. We weren’t on a hunt for waterfalls, though, so we only saw a few. The largest one was Nisqually Valley Falls, which is fed by the Nisqually Glacier, at least in part. It drops about 300 feet over two drops.

While in Olympic National Park, we hiked to Gatton Creek Falls, which drops 60 feet in a staircase style. While walking the path, we enjoyed the many wildflowers and ferns in addition to the sound of the rushing water.

As its name implies, North Cascades National Park has many waterfalls, but, again we only saw a couple of them. We took the Happy Creek Nature Trail Happy Creek trail, but didn’t reach the top of the waterfall.  However, we enjoyed the lower part of the flow.


Gorge Creek Falls

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Falling Waters Twenty-Two: Réunion and Mauritius

January, 2018

9707C37B-CF06-4AFD-953B-D2D495095007Near the end of a South African and Indian Ocean cruise, we stopped at the islands of Réunion and Mauritius. We really only saw one waterfall on the Island of Réunion, along the road as we traveled from one location to another, and I have no idea of its name, but I’m including it in anyway.

Mauritius, on the other hand, offered a few more opportunities. Black River Gorges National Park is home to Alexandra Falls. This is a lovely waterfall, but is almost overshadowed by the views of the gorge itself.

Not far away is the stunning Chamarel Waterfalls, with a drop of 312 feet over a vertical cliff.

If you’re there, it’s well worth a side trip to stop at Seven Coloured Earths.


We also spent a few days in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Now, the UAE is a desert country, but in Dubai, if it doesn’t exist naturally, they will build it, hoping you will come. So, the Dubai Mall built The Waterfall, an 80 foot indoor waterfall, in 2008.

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Falling Waters Twenty-One: Southeastern Minnesota

October 5, 2018

We thought it was high time we saw some of the waterfalls we drive by in Southeastern Minnesota. It wasn’t raining today, unusual this year, so we went exploring.

First, is the non-waterfall – Zumbro Falls. The city dates to the mid-1800’s. A grist-mill dam created the falls at the original location of the. Numerous floods over the years swept away the dam and the waterfall. Needless to say, we didn’t stop here.

We saw our first waterfall 40 miles west of Zumbro Falls, in Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. Established in 1945, the park has eleven miles of hiking trails, four miles of snowmobile trails, and a mile of snowshoe trail. It also has a lovely waterfall, called Hidden Falls.

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park is comprised of two, nearly horizontal, layers: a layer of glacial drift about 150 feet thick over a layer of limestone. The limestone is buried in most parts of the park, but is visible at Hidden Falls on Prairie Creek. As the creek flowed over the hard limestone bedrock, lower layers of soft shale bedrock eroded faster and undercut the limestone, creating a rock shelf with a waterfall.

You can walk across the creek to continue hiking through the park.

We then drove east to the City of Cannon Falls, through rolling farmland. The fall colors are not at peak yet, but it still made for a beautiful drive.

Cannon Falls experienced a very bad storm a couple of weeks ago, and there is still evidence of the damage, with fences down, homes damaged, and many trees uprooted. With all of the rain recently, the waterfall has a good, strong flow.

The waterfall, for which the city is named, is located on the Little Cannon River, less than a mile from where it empties into the Cannon River. Take a walk in Minnieska Park for some good views of the falls.

I especially liked the stelae that were posted in the park, with the message, in several languages: “May Peace Prevail on Earth.”

Our last stop was seventeen miles north of Cannon Falls. Hastings is home to Vermillion Falls at Vermillion Falls State Park. This 100 foot waterfall on the Vermillion River is located next to Ardent Mills flour mill. The original mill, built in 1853, and powered by Vermillion Falls, was the first operating mill in Minnesota Graham flour was invented here, a key ingredient in graham crackers, so when you are enjoying your S’mores, remember it’s possible in part because of the mill in Hastings.

The park is home to a white squirrel. We have black squirrels at home, which are probably variants of the eastern grey squirrel. I’d not seen a white one before. It might be an albino, but more likely, is another variant of the eastern grey squirrel. It was difficult to get close enough to get a good shot of it, as it was pretty skittish.


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