Dean M. Chriss
Tower Fall from Below, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Tower Fall, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

(Click image to enlarge)

This was my first attempt to capture a Tower Fall photograph that I had envisioned. The envisioned image would have much different lighting and be shown in color. What I actually got is better suited to black and white. This attempt was a failure but taught me that what I wanted might be possible if I tried again in the spring, earlier in the morning, and in clearer weather; preferably partly cloudy with some overcast in the east. When I tried to do that I found the trail temporarily "closed for restoration" work. More attempts over the years all found the trail still closed.

Eventually I discovered that the last third of the trail leading to this viewpoint was compromised by rock and mud slides. It was not physically inaccessible or even very difficult for a normal person to get through the damage, but it was far too dangerous for the dense crowds of visitors that are common here at peak times. The National Park Service had closed the area for visitor safety, making access illegal. When this happened the Yellowstone National Park website stated that they were "looking at solutions" to the problem. It said the same thing for the next sixteen years. Then the historic floods of June 2022 undoubtedly caused additional damage that is far more severe than that which originally closed the trail. I can't imagine it ever being reopened, and I don't think there was ever any serious attempt to do that. Like it or not, in this case my best attempt to capture the image I envisioned is by definition my only attempt.

Before the Tower Fall trail was closed the number of visitors using it at peak times greatly exceeded its capacity. Large numbers of people refusing to obey multiple signs instructing them to stay on the trail caused severe erosion of the steep hillsides the trail traversed, and around the small viewing area near the base of the waterfall. These are all composed of loose and powdery volcanic soil. There was no room to increase the trail's width on the steep ridgeline it necessarily followed, and not enough area in the narrow canyon to expand viewpoint at the trail's end. This is one of a number of trails and viewpoints that cannot possibly be expanded to accommodate the increasing number of visitors. I think the landslides and subsequent flooding only hastened this trail's inevitable closure. Such closures are necessary both to preserve the park and limit the number of visitor injuries, and they are an obvious consequence of unbridled population growth.

Uncle Tom's Trail is another Yellowstone trail that is permanently closed because it cannot practically be modernized to accommodate current and future usage. That trail was was much more dramatic, historically significant, and popular. It was also one of my favorites trails in Yellowstone.

Tower Creek plunges 123 feet (40m) over Yellowstone's Tower Fall before travelling another 1000 yards (910m) to the creek's confluence with the Yellowstone River. The waterfall was named Tower Falls in 1870 by Samuel Hauser, a member of the Washburn party. In his diary Hauser said it is the most beautiful falls he ever saw, and that he named them for the towers and pinnacles at its brink. From this viewpoint it is easy to see how the waterfall got its name. The fall was later renamed Tower Fall (singular) by the U.S. Geological Survey in 1928.