The Allure of Waterfalls: Data Sources and Working Bibliography

Waterfalls have been a longtime passion of mine and the focus of my capstone in environmental studies. As an avid explorer of waterfalls, I think of a waterfall visit as being a profoundly exhilarating experience. The combination of a waterfall’s aesthetic visual beauty, roaring sound, drenching mist, vibrant surroundings and geologic significance make them exceptionally unique land forms. Waterfalls are transient features as their appearances are in constant flux. Seeing a waterfall at low flow vs high flow, in different seasons or even at different times of day can be a highly varied experience. Forces of weathering and erosion also transform waterfalls as they slowly propagate upstream. The striking dynamism of waterfalls have attracted human visitors for millennia and this trend certainly continues today.

Areas with high concentrations of waterfalls and, in some cases, significant individual cataracts have risen to become international tourist destinations. Waterfalls are so appealing that people would travel thousands of miles to stand in their presence. This sets the stage for the framing question of my capstone: What is the allure of waterfalls? Upon further examination, my focus question grapples with people’s reasons for visiting a falls and what sorts of experiences they are seeking. The more specific (focus) question I’m asking is: What experiences do people seek at waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge in comparison to those at Mt. Fuji, Japan? It will be interesting to see how these vastly different cultural views of these situated contexts will affect what experiences visitors seek at waterfalls.


Data Sources

Toedtemeier, Terry., Laursen, John, and Northwest Photography Archive, Publisher. Wild Beauty: Photographs of the Columbia River Gorge, 1867-1957. Northwest Photography Series; 1. Portland, Or. : Corvallis, Or.: Northwest Photography Archive; Oregon State University Press, 2008.

Apart from containing a thorough overview of the geologic and human history of the Gorge, this book contains several old waterfall photos in a variety of contexts. Many of the photographs contain descriptions and historical details which will be useful for my background. The ways photographers depicted waterfalls here in the late 19th century compared to how they are shown now will aid in tracing both human perceptions of waterfalls and the extent to which these places have been developed.

Burns, Robert. 2011. “Columbia River Gorge Vital Signs Indicators Resident and Visitor Study.” 

This study investigated people’s perceptions of the qualities of the Columbia River Gorge, including its waterfalls. Burns wanted specifically to identify perceptions of crowding, reasons for visitation, quality of conditions and how crowds impact their experience.  His study will be helpful for connecting experience with access. According to his study, one of the predominant reasons people came to the Gorge was to get a break from their daily routine and enjoy scenic vistas. The majority of people also did not feel like the gorge was crowded and many of those who were at popular destinations remarked that the presence of other people actually added to their enjoyment of the area. It will be interesting to see how strongly this study correlates to the waterfall-specific interview data I plan to collect.

The Columbia River Gorge Commission – Management Plan and Contact:

The management plan provides an overview of land use, protection standards, non-regulatory programs and actions taken to maintain the Gorge’s myriad of resources. This includes the role of government and local agencies in implementing discussed strategies. This plan will prove useful with regards to understanding how the area is managed under the conditions of tourism. It will also provide insights into safety standards and or concerns with the construction of access infrastructure like roads or trails near popular waterfalls. I also plan to contact the Gorge Commission to potentially set up an interview where I will ask about how they manage waterfalls in particular.



Adhikari, Danda. 2014. “Hydrogeological Features of Mount Fuji and the Surrounding Area, Central Japan: An Overview.” Journal of Institute of Science and Technology 19 (1): 96–105.

Adhikari’s article examines how the porosity of Mt. Fuji’s basalt has led to immense aquifer storage. This water surfaces as five lakes on the north side of the mountain and as a myriad of springs on the south side. Some of the springs that emerge on the south side of the mountain become waterfalls as they pour out of an elevated space between lava flows. This article will aid in comparing the hydrology of Mt. Fuji to that of the Columbia River Gorge. It will also help with regards to getting a firm hydrologic background on the waterfalls that surround Mt. Fuji.

HUDSON, BRIAN J. “Waterfalls, Tourism and Landscape.” Geography 91, no. 1 (2006): 3-12.

This article draws the interesting comparison between tourist “attraction” and “destination.” He remarks on the notion that many waterfalls are attractions but only a select few can be considered destinations by themselves. He also discusses the historic role of waterfalls in tourism and how developing a waterfall area for the sake of easier access can lead to an inauthentic waterfall experience.

Hudson, Brian J. Waterfall. RB-Earth. London: Reaktion Books, 2012.

Brian J. Hudson’s Waterfall contains a wealth of information regarding the role of waterfalls in nature and culture. This book contains sections on waterfall geology, tourist development, crowding impacts and evolving perceptions of waterfalls throughout history. Despite lacking a situated context, this book contains lots of information for my background.

Lamb, Michael P., and William E. Dietrich. 2009. “The persistence of waterfalls in fractured rock.” GSA Bulletin 121 (7-8): 1123–34

This article discusses knickpoint propagation and erosion, creating distinct boundaries between adjusting and relict topography.  Rates of propagation depend on rock strength, rock type, and layering. In particular, Lamb also examines erosion patterns at waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest and how waterfall induced toppling shapes canyon head walls as well as nearby terrain. 

Plumb, G. (1998). A waterfall lover’s guide to the Pacific Northwest : Where to find hundreds of spectacular waterfalls in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho (3rd ed.). Seattle, WA: The Mountaineers.

This book has encyclopedic information on and directions to hundreds of waterfalls across the Pacific Northwest including the Columbia River Gorge. I plan to use this book to compare its renderings of waterfalls to what people actually experience at the aforementioned falls firsthand. It will also be useful to note how the book’s numerous photographs portray the Gorge’s waterfalls in comparison to those from the Northwest Photography Archive. This book could aid in supporting my photo analysis.

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