General Geology Clifty Falls State Park
The area of Clifty Falls State Park lies on an area geologists call the Cincinnati Arch. This geological formation stretches between the Illinois Basin, in south central Illinois, and the Appalachian Basin, which slants southwest through eastern Virginia. The rock layers in the area of the park slant towards the west with the younger rock faces to the west and the older to the east. The exposed rock is mostly composed of a substance geologists call Laurel Dolomite. This rock is more resistant to erosion that the rocks on either side of the park, thus it formed a ridge through the park and nearby Madison. This ridge created a drainage divide. Precipitation falling east of this divide flows eastward and that falling west of the divide fell west. Rains that fell in the Madison area cascaded over the harder Dolomite, forming waterfalls and cascades that tumbled into the deeper Ohio River. The falls at Clifty Falls originally fell directly into the river, however over the centuries the running water carved the current canyon that runs from the falls to the Ohio River, about 2 miles to the south. The falls is at an elevation of 658 feet above sea level and the Ohio River is at 432 feet above sea level, so the stream bed is about 226 feet below the canyon rim near the river. Since the rock on both sides of the canyon slants west, rainwater on the east percolates down through the rock on the eastern canyon wall, forming springs that freeze into the beautiful frozen waterfalls on the east face of the canyon. This percolating water creates openings in the rock that over many years break it apart, causing the large boulders seen at the canyons base. The water on the western rim falls to the west, thus the western face is more stable as the water does not percolate through it.
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