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Get Out! Great Falls National Park


This weekend’s suggested outing is probably best tackled tomorrow unless you really like the cold – which I do, but I am a bit of an outlier. Anyway, this one is a real gem, a complete contrast to the quiet, contemplative coolness of Abe Lincoln’s cottage: Great Falls National Park. Haven’t been there recently? Trust me, it is beautiful and will make you happy!

If you are coming from DC, you’ll get to cross the Cabin John Bridge, which is really called the Union Arch Bridge. For a while anyway, this bridge, built between 1857 and 1864, was the largest single span bridge in the world. It was built to bring water into DC and the pipe which does so runs through the bridge and continues to DC underneath MacArthur Boulevard. MacArthur Boulevard’s old name, Conduit Road, was named for this. Another bit of trivia about this bridge: the names of the federal officials responsible for its construction are listed on a plaque, including the traitorous Jeff Davis, who was Secretary of War in 1857. His name was removed after the Civil War, only to be restored by Teddy Roosevelt in his final days in office to placate white racist Southern politicians. Amazingly this pipe still brings in water to the city!

Now onto Great Falls, where the Potomac drops 77 feet in less than a mile, the steepest fall line rapids found in the eastern US. It’s pretty mesmerizing to see the power of the river – entrancing the physicist, the geologist, and the poet alike. The falls separate the Atlantic coastal plain from the Piedmont, and the rocks are metamorphic, old sandstone transformed into granodiorite. The water from melting glaciers pushed through the factures in the rock and also carried massive boulders from far north.  

There’s also a tavern there, which was built in 1828 to serve the canal traffic. Indeed these falls are the reason why we needed a canal in the first place. So put some wonder in your weekend! Here’s the website: https://www.nps.gov/grfa/index.htm

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