3500 Travels

Reversing Falls

Near Pembroke, Maine on November 16, 2015 (updates made 11/24/2015)

 

I’ve had the opportunity in my life to see a number of beautiful and amazing sites. When I was three or four it was the fire falls in Yosemite. Of course, the vertical majesty of the Yosemite walls must be included as well, some of which I have climbed on. I remember viewing the Sahara desert in southern Morocco and trying to imagine its scale. If you haven’t seen Uluru and the Olgas in central Australia, it is hard to fathom the size of these formations rising from the surrounding plain. Back in the USA is Zion National Park and even the little slot canyon near our home in New Mexico. There are others, and the reader could generate their own list.

All of these places I’ve seen and experienced in person. Like many, I have also benefited from people’s efforts at bringing the natural world to the screen (usually TV), or to the pages of a coffee-table book filled with perfect pictures. But last Monday, November 16, I saw something brand new to me that was amazing, beautiful, and awesome.

Reversing falls occur in certain place where the topography and tidal action combine in such a way as to cause rapids that move in one direction as the tide comes in, and then reverse when the tide goes out. Put this way it sounds a bit prosaic, but the real thing is anything but.

When Kerry, Cathie, and I went up to the Bay of Fundy we could have stopped in St John, New Brunswick to see an example. Time was against us so we didn’t stop. Perhaps we’ll go back. But Cathie learned of an example of reversing falls closer to where we are now. They are located about 10 miles from Pembroke, ME between Cobscook Bay and Dennys Bay. Appropriately there is a park called Reversing Falls Park. See the Far East map for the location. I’m not sure what was here before the park but there was an old mill stone.

Mill stone on display at Reversing Falls Park.

Mill stone on display at Reversing Falls Park.

I took videos over the course of several hours that I hope give you a sense of the extraordinary nature of the tidal behavior. You should view them in order. Tides are both basic and complex. The Moon and Sun cause them, but the particular behavior involves the details of the land both at and below the water line. Finally, think of a teeter-totter. When the person is at the highest or lowest point they are still for a moment before they change direction. It is at the midpoint that they are moving most rapidly. Tidal action is similar, with the term slack applied to the two end states. One last point to make is in regard to changes in water level from low to high tide. In Santa Monica Bay at near El Segundo, the tides cause changes of 2 to 5 feet. At Eastport, ME, about 12 miles away as the seal swims, and the closest place with tide tables, the tide changes the water level by 18 to 20 feet. The Bay of Fundy has tides that reach 50 feet! Still, 20 feet is a lot.

We arrived around 10:30am which was about 2 hours after low tide. Going back to the teeter-totter example, the rider is moving pretty fast. Recall that there are very close to two tides per day, so from low to high tide takes about six hours. Our timing was good. With the stage set, what do we have?

Our initial view from where we parked showed water churning over some submerged rocks. We then found our way along the shore to see some of the upstream action. Of course this would be downstream action in a few hours.

The more inland rapids (falls?) as seen from Reversing Falls Park.

The more inland rapids (falls?) as seen from Reversing Falls Park.

Prominent rock near inlet to Dennys Bay. Tide is coming in.

Prominent rock near inlet to Dennys Bay. Tide is coming in.

Videos do more justice to the spectacle. These first two were taken at 10:33 and 10:47am. The water is coming in from around the north side of Falls Island, which is at the top of the start of the first video. If you look at the Far East map you will see that it is a rather tortuous route to the open ocean.

 

 

 

About 11:30 we decided to get some lunch and then come back for a second look. We drove north along US 1 hoping to find something. This part of Maine is very rural and sparsely populated so no lunch seemed a possibility unless we drove farther than we wanted. We were lucky and came upon the New Friendly Restaurant. I don’t know how new it was, but there were plenty of friendly locals there who all seemed to know each other. The food was quite American, or perhaps Mainer, but fine. I had a pork sandwich and Cathie had a lobster roll.

Lunch at the New Friendly Restaurant in Perry, ME.

Lunch at the New Friendly Restaurant in Perry, ME.

The restaurant is in Perry, ME and at about 44.97O north. Perry’s claim to fame is being half way from the equator to the North Pole and indeed, just up the road, is a stone marking this location.

Stone marking 45th parallel, placed by the town of Perry, Main almost 120 years ago. Right hand image added for clarity.

Stone marking 45th parallel, placed by the town of Perry, Main almost 120 years ago. Right hand image added for clarity.

After lunch we drove back to the park to see that the water was still pouring in. The big rock in the middle of the channel was just submerged but there was still much churning of water. The video below was taken at 1:08pm.

 

 

We decided to hang around as long as we could to experience the quiet and calmness of the slack high tide, and hopefully see the reversing. It is fully dark by 5:00pm, maybe a bit before, so we would be cutting things a bit close. While we waited for high tide we saw two or three seals. One came cruising in along with the flow. It made me think of the free ride dolphins get swimming on the bow wave of a ship.

A seal that swam in with the tide.

A seal that swam in with the tide.

Beside various sea birds – loons, cormorants, and ducks – Cathie also spotted a bald eagle sitting near the top of a tree on the other side of the channel.

Bald eagle perched high across the channel.

Bald eagle perched high across the channel.

It was a long way off, so even with the 10x optical zoom and photo editing, the enlarged picture is marginal at best. After sitting for quite some time he or she took off and crossed the channel just east of us. I wish we had seen more of them.

Digital zoom previous eagle picture.

Digital zoom previous eagle picture.

Slack tide finally came at just after 2:30pm, which was about 40 minutes after high tide in Eastport. We were both watching pretty closely and agree that this slack time lasted at most for 5 minutes.

 

 

While we could see that the water had reversed, I wanted to wait to get a video that clearly showed the new direction. It was beginning to get darker and colder. In fact we had some moments of rain and one brief spat of sleet while waiting. I held out until 3:03pm to take the video below. It is not as dramatic as the first three, but if you look closely you can see the tide going out.

 

 

All in all it was a special day. While the dogs may not have appreciated the unique quality of the place, they always seem happy to be out and about to live their doggy lives.

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