Why We Go Chasing Waterfalls

What is it about waterfalls that make them so captivating?

Why do people trek miles to see a waterfall? Or spend years trying to see every waterfall in a particular region?

The obvious answer is that waterfalls are beautiful. But why are they beautiful and why can they stop us dead in our tracks to stand and watch in awe?

The other day I was biking up a big hill. I was a long, slow slog up a gravel road in my bike’s easiest gear. As I was going up, some water was running downhill in the ditch along side the road. It wasn’t pretty—just a plain old ditch full of last year’s leaves—but I was surprised to find myself happy to see a little waterfall. If I could even call it that… it was just a spot where the water dropped, rather than flowed, a distance of no more than 6 inches.

It wasn’t really that pretty or special, but I was thrilled to see it.

A teensy waterfall found roadside (i.e., in a ditch).
A teensy waterfall found roadside (i.e., in a ditch).

I can’t help but speculate that perhaps we love waterfalls so much because they signal clean water. The higher up in a watershed, the closer to the source of the water, the more likely you are to find a waterfall.

Flowing, bubbling, whirling water is active—not stagnant—and so presumably more clean.

And who hasn’t wanted to drink from a particularly pretty waterfall?

After all, water fountains are just man-made waterfalls.

waterfall in woods
I was compelled to wander off the road to see this waterfall on a tributary to Hubbard Brook in New Hampshire last week.
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