Reading this week:
- Tipoo Tib, Narrated from His Own Accounts by Dr. Heinrich Brode and translated by H. Havelock
- Rama II by Arthur C. Clarke and Gentry Lee (I am not sure either of these people have met other people, let alone a woman)
This is probably mostly an apology for whatever algorithm drives (or in my case doesn’t really) traffic to this site, but sorry it is late. This is entirely my fault, since no one else writes this blog, and really while the cause is me, the biggest victim is also me, because I do this whole project as a way to motivate myself and stuff and clearly I failed at that. So sorry, me, and also I will get my undying revenge.
This past weekend my super amazing girlfriend, another friend of mine, the friend’s dog Barley, and I risked death by visiting Great Falls National Park.
I had been to Great Falls I think just once before this past weekend. I visited because of course it was on Atlas Obscura. It is a fairly stunning place. My super amazing girlfriend and I live in Alexandria, which is on the Potomac river, and it is of course a cute little placid thing, despite George Washington’s hopes it would be the Nile of America or whatever. But you go just a little up it and suddenly there is this massive and violent torrent of water which I never would have suspected was there because I never studied geography too closely. Here is a gif of it, to complement the picture at the top:
After the gorgeous views and awe of nature in its rawest forms, I think the next most striking part of the park is how starkly they warn you that you will almost certainly die if you even think about touching the water. Their website is worth a peruse. They warn you this because it is true. Here is a Washington Post article describing the how and why of its deadliness. Basically, it is a huge volume of water flowing through a very narrow space, so the currents are extremely swift. And although the falls part of the falls, the bit in the picture and gif, look deadly, just down river is a placid-looking little part. But it is covering a irregular bottom with pits that cause roiling underwater currents of up to thirty-five knots! So people jump in for a nice little swim and get swept underwater and die.
In fact, I think it is the 11th deadliest national park. If you google “deadliest national parks” you get things like Outside Online articles listing the Grand Canyon, or Backpacker articles debunking that Outside Online article and listing Denali instead. They in turn it seems are based on this report going a little more in-depth. But they’re all wrong!
I mean maybe. None of them list Great Falls National Park because, I think, it is administratively part of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. The Parkway gets a whole lot of visitors per year at sites like Arlington Cemetery (well Arlington House, specifically), and while there are a lot of dead people there, not a lot of people die there. All the reports base their numbers on per capita deaths, and so the Parkway system itself gets a lot of per capitas. But if you limit it to Great Falls, it shoots up the list.
It’s hard to tell exactly how deadly Great Falls is. A sign near the first lookout claims seven people drown per year. That Washington Post article I linked to says that between 2001 and 2013, 27 people died. I found more recent articles about drownings, but none listing totals, so we’ll go with 2.25 deaths per year. The only number I could find for total visitors to the park was on the Wikipedia page, which in an uncited figure says 645,000 people visited in 2002, which is conveniently in our range for the Washington Post article. That final report I linked (here again) lists the deadliest national parks in terms of deaths per 10 million visitors, so with our numbers we have a grim 34.9 deaths per 10 million visitors. That puts it just below Big Bend National Park. If that 7 deaths a year number were true, it would handedly be the second deadliest national park, just behind North Cascades National Park.
So I am glad to report we didn’t die! In fact we had a very nice time. After the awe-inspiring falls, we walked along the canal trail, admiring the old infrastructure. The visitor center was closed, which was sad, because I remember it giving a particularly good overview of infrastructure and stuff. Always a big fan of canals, me, and my super amazing girlfriend is willing to indulge.
As we walked along the trail we eventually got into a slightly more rugged portion where we could admire the river going by. It was a gorgeous day and we got plenty of sun. There were a good number of people around but also plenty of space so a lovely time was had by all. The dog, Barley, seemed to enjoy the views. My super amazing girlfriend and I caught up with our dog-owning friend and we wiled away the hours. We eventually went back closer to the Visitor’s Center and enjoyed some ice cream from an ice-cream truck that had a captive audience and charged like it. A lovely day was had by all and we eventually parted ways, satisfied with our thrill-seeking scrape with death.