Disabling a natural phenomenon 15,000 years in the making

In the White Mountains of New Hampshire, at the bottom of a beautiful waterfall, you will find The Basin, a granite pothole twenty feet in diameter.  It is believed to have been eroded 15,000 years ago while the North American ice sheet was melting.  It has been smoothed by small stones and sand whirled around by the Pemigewasset River. The Basin - Franconia Notch State Park

The Basin was a favorite spot of Henry David Thoreau.

In Samuel Eastman's White Mountain Guide, it is described as "One of the beautiful haunts of Nature, a luxurious and delicious bath fit for the ablutions of a goddess."

That is, unless two twelve-year old boys decide to spend the entire day damming up the Penigewasset River and thus drying up The Basin.

The river, which is more like a wide, slow stream in the summer, meandered its way through our campsite in August of 1984. And since it was hot and humid that day and there was little to keep us occupied, my friend and I spent the majority of the morning and afternoon attempting to dam up the river.

And since we were accomplished Boy Scouts at the time, we took the challenge seriously and were well equipped for the job. We felled trees across the river, moved earth into the riverbed from a nearby campsite, and made use of several large stones and a pair of campfire benches in order to create the most water-tight dam possible.

We didn’t stop the river completely, but we reduced the flow by more than half.

When the park rangers who supervised The Basin finally made the three mile trek upriver in order to determine what had caused the roaring waterfall that filled The Basin to dry up to a trickle, they were surprised to find two sweaty, dirty boys shoring up a dam that had already managed to flood three empty campsites and much of the valley behind them.

We denied any knowledge that The Basin was downstream, and because there were no adults present at the encounter, that claim went unchallenged, even though we had spent much of the previous day at The Basin, hatching our scheme.

According to one of the park rangers, there was “barely enough water coming over the falls to fill a tin pot.”

Under the rangers’ supervision, we disassembled our dam and restored the flow of water downstream, but not before receiving a stern warning about ever doing something like this again.

I learned three important lessons that day.

  1. Even twelve year old boys can alter the course of Mother Nature with enough time, determination and wood cutting paraphernalia.
  2. Park rangers are like mall cops. They can’t do much other than wag a finger, issue a few meaningless warnings and force a couple of boys to take their dam apart.
  3. Timing is everything. Had we left an hour earlier to view our handiwork (as my friend had suggested), we would have made it to The Basin in time to see the trickling waterfall and dried-up granite bowl. And while we took some satisfaction in the park ranger’s description of the scene, the ability to actually view one’s accomplishment is infinitely more satisfying.