Once the two tents were put up and the gear was laid out the group backtracked to the beginning of the campground to visit Havasu Falls. René saw others heading towards the falls, wearing swimsuits. “Hey you guys, those other campers have swimsuits on. I’m going to change, what about you?”
“Okay, yeah!” Rory jumped at the idea. He was hot and sticky from the hike.
Ellen was okay with it, but Katie couldn’t decide. She’d brought a two-piece suit, but she was self-conscious of her growing belly. Briefly, she contemplated wearing a one-piece but realized she needed to pee more frequently, and peeing in a one piece meant stripping down entirely.
“Look, up there.” Rory pointed ahead. “Two guys are up at the top. It looks like they’re going to jump off the falls, let’s go.”
“Ellen and I will meet you guys in a bit,” Katie said, moving aside to let the excited Rory get into the tent to change. She walked over to the picnic table where Ellen was reading a travel book.
Ellen looked at her with concern. “Are you feeling okay, Katie? Was the hike too hard?”
“I'm fine, Ellen. I'm having trouble with my changing body and the thought of wearing a bathing suit, that's all. What are you reading?”
“It’s about this place,” she explained as Katie settled next to her on the picnic bench. “That’s Havasu Falls. It’s ninety feet high.” She read out loud: “'It's highly recommended you do not jump off Havasu Falls or Mooney Falls unless you wish to be air-evacuated out of the canyon for breaking every bone in your body, or you have a death wish. However, there are smaller you can jump off .'”
She stopped for a moment, reading silently. “This suggests going to New Navajo Falls or Beaver Falls. It's also wise to bring a sixty-foot rope, tie a rock to the end of it, and drop it into the pools of water before deciding to jump. It's always better to be safe than sorry.'” She laughed.
Katie was worried, watching their two men enter the water at the foot of the falls. “I hope they don’t think they can do it just because those idiots do." The girls rose from the table and walked to the shoreline for a better view. Katie carried towels and Ellen toted the traveler’s Bible.
Havasu Creek spurted out from a large keyhole in the rock face ninety feet above them, crashing into a large lagoon of turquoise blue water ten feet deep. This lagoon cascaded into a lower pool over a semi-circular ledge. A water curtain sixty feet wide fell into the second pond six feet below.
The exotic stone sculpturing came from a type of limestone called travertine. This mineral deposit on the vertical face of the ninety-foot waterfall made the face of the cliff look like melted candle wax hardened into stone.
This geologic sculpturing intrigued Rory. He spent some time enjoying the warm water, but then sought Ellen and Katie out on the beach. “Ellen, this rock is amazing. How is it formed?”
“I’m reading about it right now, Rory. The water bubbling out of the ground at the beginning of Cataract Creek carries a lot of dissolved calcium carbonate. That’s what causes the water to be so blue in color. The calcium carbonate mineral appears when rainwater percolates through the canyon’s red limestone; the book calls it Redwall limestone. The water dissolves the limestone when it seeps through, and that's the calcium carbonate.”
“Cool.” Rory stood over Katie, dripping water on her until she slapped his leg.
He laid a towel down to sit next to her, wiggling his wetness nearer and nearer until she complained.
“Stay there, you’re dripping wet,” she laughed.
Ellen continued reading.
“'The water flowing to the surface at the beginning of Cataract Creek is warm, about seventy degrees, and is under pressure. Both of these processes allow it to carry a lot of dissolved calcium carbonate. As this warm, pressurized water surges to the surface carbon dioxide bubbles off, like the pressure released when you open a can of Coke. The fizzing is the escape of the carbon dioxide. Once it fizzes out of the water, the minerals can no longer stay dissolve, so they settle out, forming the limestone deposits of this area. They call the newly deposited limestone travertine.'”
“So the calcium carbonate of the Redwall limestone is dissolved in the warm, pressurized water, and then reforms as travertine limestone around the falls, right?”
Ellen nodded her head.
“What causes the red color in the limestone layers?” Rory asked as he pointed to the red rock walls of the canyon.
“Limestone gets red when hematite mixes into it. So, it comes from the oxidation of iron.”
“That’s what I thought. Did you know there was a time on earth when there was no oxygen? And without oxygen, you can’t have rust, so these rocks weren’t red until oxygen evolved.”
“Really Rory?” Katie asked. He looked at her, unsure if she was teasing. Still, he continued.
“Yes, really. There were lots of minerals, including iron, and nickel on the early earth, but the iron couldn't rust because there was no oxygen to oxidize it.”
“I thought oxygen was needed by cells to live. That means something needed to produce the oxygen for animals.” Katie and Rory had studied organic chemistry, and they both knew how necessary oxygen is to drive our metabolic pathways. These chemical reactions constantly occur inside of us so we can continue to live.
“Nope, no oxygen, not at first. There was no oxygen ever until cyanobacteria, known as blue-green algae developed photosynthesis. Oxygen is a by-product of this reaction, so while the blue-green algae were growing, they were using carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide to create water and oxygen. After millions of years of this one reaction our present-day atmosphere developed. It was the oxygen in the water and air that allowed the iron to oxidize, and turn rusty red.”
“Interesting. So these slimy bacteria terra formed the early earth, making water and oxygen available to grow more complex organisms?” René asked, coming over to join the conversation.
“Yep, the process has been called The Great Oxidation Event. Am I losing you, Ellen?” Rory asked. The question was rhetorical because he was proceeding forward anyway.
“A little bit.”
“Here’s a final kicker that’ll perk your ears up. Do you realize plants can only photosynthesize because the cyanobacteria have inserted into every plant cell?”
“You mean the blue-green algae is a parasite within all plants, Rory?”
“Yes. A long, long time ago the algae-bacteria made a deal with a newly forming plant. It told the plant if it could provide protection from the weather, then the algae would help the plant make fruit and wood and leaves from sunlight and carbon dioxide.”
“Sounds like a good idea for both.”
Note from the author: Thank you Erica for lending me your beautiful pictures of the canyon.
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Havasu Falls: Butterfly Boy, Chapter 32