Falling Waters Nine: The Cascades, Illilouette and Ribbon, Yosemite National Park

Spring, 2013

We’ve made two trips to Yosemite National Park, but didn’t manage to see all of the waterfalls in the park. This post addresses three that we didn’t spend as much time at during either visit.

Our first trip was to celebrate a milestone birthday for me. When I asked Mark what he wanted to do for his milestone, he said “New Zealand.” Clearly, I need to raise the bar for my own celebrations! The second trip was for a family reunion with Mark’s family, a delightful gathering with Mark’s parents, and two sets of aunts and uncles, along with several cousins we hadn’t seen for a very long time.

I noticed that the park website uses the singular version of fall, rather than the plural version that I’ve used all of my life. National Geographic refers to any specific waterfall in the singular, and uses the plural to refer to waterfalls in general, so I’ve been trying to do the same.

For visitors entering the park at Arch Rock, The Cascades is the first waterfall they will see. This is a series of tumbling waterfalls and cascades, with a total height of 750 feet over five drops. The Cascades originates with Cascade Creek, and is joined by Tamarack Creek after about 250 feet (the cascades,) creating a magnificent fall of 500 feet on its way to the Merced River.


Tamarack Creek on the left, Cascade Creek on the right

Illilouette Fall is a 370 foot fall fed by Illilouette Creek. The name is an anglicization of the Miwok name that sounds roughly like Too-lol-lo-we-ack. (Yes, it looks French, but it isn’t.) There is no known translation. Illilouette is in a small side canyon that can be seen when hiking to Vernal and Nevada Falls.


Ribbon Fall has a drop of 1,612 feet, and is considered to be the longest single drop waterfall in the United States. It dissolves into a fine mist before it hits the bottom. Fed by melting snow, there’s no flow for much of the year, which would explain why we didn’t see in on our first visit in the fall, 2009.

The Native American name was Lung-yo-to-co-ya, which means “pigeon basket.” The name may refer to the numbers of birds that build their nests here.


Wikipedia lists 21 waterfalls in Yosemite. We’ve seen only a third of them. Perhaps we need to go there again.

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Falling Waters Eight – Nevada Fall, Yosemite National Park

Fall, 2009 and Spring, 2013

Nevada Fall has been in the news recently, as a young man fell while taking a selfie near the top of this waterfall. It’s a tragic reminder of the need to be very careful when hiking these trails.

Nevada is a Spanish word meaning “snowy.” The Native American name was Yo-wy-we, for the twisting nature of this fall. Fed by the Merced River, it free falls for about the first third, then hits a steep slick-rock slope for the final two-thirds.

It is possible to hike to the top of Nevada Fall by following the Mist Trail another 1.5 miles from Vernal Fall. If you want a longer hike, with different scenery, you can take the John Muir Trail which starts in Yosemite Park and passes by Nevada Fall before continuing 215 miles through Southern California. This trail traverses the Ansel Adams Wilderness, King’s Canyon National Park, and Sequoia National Park, on its way to Mount Whitney.

Like most of Yosemite’s waterfalls, the flow in fall is a trickle compared to that in the spring.

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Falling Waters Seven – Vernal Fall, Yosemite National Park

Spring, 2013

Vernal Fall cannot be seen from the road, and we missed it on our first visit in 2009. The local name was Yanopah, meaning “little water cloud.” It received its current name from Lafayette Bunnell in the 1850’s. As a member of the Mariposa Battalion, the first non-Indians to enter Yosemite Valley, Bunnell is also credited with giving the valley the name Yosemite. By the way, the word Yosemite means “those who kill.” The Miwok Peoples were afraid of the valley dwellers, referring to them as killers.

Vernal is a 317 foot waterfall on the Merced River. Visitors can hike to the top by following the Mist Trail in Yosemite. It’s a short hike, less than 1.5 miles, but it becomes steeper as you ascend. We decided to take the hike on our return visit in 2013. I didn’t go all of the way because I was experiencing some light-headedness from the altitude. The trail is slippery and not one to be attacked if you’re feeling a little dizzy.

Rather than return to the bottom of the trail, I found a large boulder in the middle of the river below the falls. I scrambled out onto the rock and was able to experience some lovely views.



Mark, however, continued to the top and was rewarded with some lovely views of rainbows in the mist.



A little bit of trivia: In 1932, a US postage stamp used a picture of Vernal Fall, but identified it as  Pagsanjan Falls in the Philipines. It quickly became a collector’s item. In 2008, the stamp was valued at $25 for a mint copy.

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Falling Waters Six – Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite National Park

Fall, 2009 and Spring, 2013

When I started researching Bridalveil Fall in Yosemite, California, I discovered that at least 13 other states also have a Bridal Veil Falls, although those are all spelled with two words, while this one is spelled with just one.

Those states with Bridal Veil include: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York (one of the three that make up Niagara,) North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota and Utah.

Even Minnesota has a Bridal Veil Falls, although its existence has been threatened over the past 150 years. Minnesota’s Bridal Veil Falls was located outside of the city limits of Minneapolis in 1860, and was only slightly less popular than the well-known Minnehaha Falls. Urbanization since that time buried most of Bridal Veil Creek, and reduced the once impressive flow of water. However, it is still visible from the Franklin Street. Sounds like there’s another road trip in our future.

Bridalveil Fall was the first waterfalls we saw when entering Yosemite National Park, both in the fall of 2009 and spring of 2013. It’s a view that often makes visitors pull over to take their first photos of the park. That was certainly true for us. This waterfall is fed by Bridalveil Creek, which originates at Ostrander Lake, and drops 620 feet. On windy days, the falling water is often blown sideways, when flow is light, the water might not even reach the ground. The Ahwahneechee peoples called it Pohono, or “Spirit of the Puffing Wind,” a very appropriate name.

There is a paved path to the base of the falls, which will soon be upgraded along with the parking lot and restrooms, making this an even more pleasant stop. The $13 million upgrade is being paid for in part by The Yosemite Conservancy. Construction will begin in the spring of 2019, and should be complete by 2020.

Like Yosemite Falls, the flow changes dramatically from spring to fall.


Fall, 2009


Spring, 2013


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Falling Waters Five – Yosemite Falls, California

Fall, 2009 and Spring, 2013

Yosemite Falls is the tallest waterfall in Yosemite National Park, third tallest in the United States (Hawaii has two that are taller), the 20th tallest in the world, not counting underwater falls.

I had not heard of underwater waterfalls, but they occurs when waters of very different temperatures meet in the sea, for instance the 11,500 foot Denmark Strait Cataract, located between Greenland and Iceland, which is formed by the difference in temperature between the ultra-cold Arctic waters of the Greenland Sea meeting those of the slightly warmer Irminger Sea. Molecules in the cold water are less active and take up less space than those in warm water, so they are packed together more tightly, making cold water denser. When the cold water meets the warm water, it slides right down through it.

Between its upper falls, middle cascades and lower falls, Yosemite drops 2,245 feet. It is one of 22 named waterfalls in Yosemite National Park. Yosemite Creek originates at Grant Lakes, and meanders several miles before plunging 1,430 feet to create Upper Yosemite Falls. From there the water flows through the Middle Cascades, a series of five smaller plunges, dropping another 675 feet to the Lower Falls, which drops a further 320 feet. Yosemite Creek then continues its trek to the Merced River. Although only 13 miles in length, this creek creates one of the most spectacular sights in Yosemite National Park.

The Ahwahneechee People occupied the Yosemite Valley for at least 1,000 years, and signs of their presence are found throughout the park. They called the waterfall “Cholock” (“the fall”) and believed that the plunge pool at its base was inhabited by the spirits of several witches, called the Poloti. Legend describes a woman going to fetch a pail of water from the pool, and drawing it out full of snakes. Later that night, the spirits caused her house to be sucked into the pool by a powerful wind, taking the woman and her newborn baby with it.

It’s almost impossible to see the cascades unless you take the Yosemite Falls trail. The full hike is a 7.2 mile round trip to the top, and can be treacherous with the mist from the falls, but you can take a shorter 2 mile round trip hike to Columbia Rock for some fabulous views of the park.

The flow is dramatically different in the spring than in the fall. Most of the water comes from snow melt from the Sierra Nevada Mountains. In the spring, the flow averages about 300 cubic feet of water per second; in the fall that drops to one cubic foot per second. In particularly dry summers, the falls can dry up entirely.

We’ve been privileged to see Yosemite Falls at peak flow as well as low flow. Our first visit was in the fall of 2009, but even with the lower flow, we were pretty impressed.

Had we seen them in full flow in the spring, we might not have been so impressed. Our second visit was in the spring of 2013.

In conclusion, any time of year is a good time to visit Yosemite.

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Falling Waters Four – Paranormal Activity in the UP!

Spring, 2005 & Fall, 2014

Paulding, Michigan is famous for the Paulding Lights! In 1966, some teenagers reported seeing mysterious lights near Paulding. Since then, a number of other folks have reported the same phenomenon, almost every night near Bond Falls. Legends arose, of course, including one that says the light comes from the swaying lantern held by the ghost of a railroad brakeman who was crushed when trying to stop a train (not too smart) from hitting some stalled rail cars on the track. Local residents claim that there were railroads that operated in the forest here as part of the logging industry over a hundred years ago, and they are now buried in the underbrush. Another legend claims it’s the ghost of an Indian dancing on the power lines.

In 2010, Syfy Channel’s Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files conducted an investigation and concluded that the Paulding Light was unexplained. However, students from Michigan Tech, Houghton, conducted their own investigation that same year, and were able to see auto headlights and tail lights when viewing the light through a telescope. The lights are refracted, and can be seen from several miles away. The students recreated the effect of the light by driving a car through a specific stretch of US45. Kind of makes you wonder just how smart those SyFy guys are.

So, pay a visit to Bond Falls Scenic Site, then stick around until night fall to see for yourself. We visited in the fall of 2014, but didn’t see any lights. Of course, we weren’t there after dark either.

Bond Falls is located on the middle branch of the Ontonagan River near Paulding, Michigan, halfway between Watersmeet and Bruce Crossing. If you are traveling from Minnesota to almost any place in the UP, you will pass nearby. It’s definitely worth a stop if you have the time, as it’s considered one of the best waterfalls in Michigan. There is an accessible boardwalk, with several viewing stations, so even my 91 year old father was able to enjoy it.

The steady flow of water over is controlled by a hydroelectric dam operated by the Upper Peninsula Power Company. The water drops in a series of cascades from about 50 feet in height, across a width of almost 100 feet. The 2,100 acre lake above the dam is prized for its fish: bluegill, muskie, northern pike and walleye, among others.

Also on the middle branch of the Ontonagan River, but with no legendary lights that I’m aware of, and about six miles downriver from Bond Falls, is Agate Falls Scenic Site, which we visited in the spring of 2005. I had erroneously identified them as Morgan Falls near Marquette, Michigan a few days ago. Mea culpa. My bad. I’ve gone back to correct that earlier post.

Agate Falls are created as the river flows over an extended shelf of terraced sandstone, resulting in a broad band of interlacing cascades and small falls that drop nearly 40 feet. They’re fairly accessible as well, with a viewing platform. You can also view the falls from an old railroad trestle that’s now part of a snowmobile trail.

Be sure to take a look at the historic Agate Falls Bridge on Michigan Hwy 28. Built in 1930, and rehabilitated in 1992, it has been designated a Michigan Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. It’s a steel deck arch bridge, one of two in the Upper Peninsula, and considered one of the most beautiful bridges designed by the Michigan State Highway Department.

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Falling Waters Three – Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Michigan

Fall, 2013

The Presque Isle River empties into Lake Superior in Porcupines Wilderness State Park, ending its journey through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. During that 42 mile journey, the river creates nine different waterfalls, three of which are located in the park. We enjoyed them during a visit in 2013. All of the falls are easily accessible by short hikes.

Nawadaha Falls, an Ojibwa name meaning “in the midst of the rapids,” is the top most of the three waterfalls. It is also low and wide, with a 15 foot drop.

A little downstream is Manido Falls, meaning spirit or ghost. This is the smallest of the three, dropping only 10 feet. The width varies by season, dependent on the flow of water.

Named for an Ojibwa spirit god, Manabezho Falls, is the most impressive with its 25 foot drop.

The rest of the hike to the lake provides some lovely views of the river as well.

I can’t stress enough the beauty of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the fall. We were there when the maples, oaks and other hardwoods were at peak color. It’s truly stunning, especially when the sky is clear, and Lake Superior is visible in the distance.


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