Drone Hobbyist Films a Rare Reverse Waterfall in Southwestern Utah

“Reverse” waterfalls are considered rare events.  The phenomenon occurs when a fierce updraft of wind – typically raging at 60 mph or more – reverses the downward direction of the waterfall, spraying a long and smoky plume of mist that wafts skyward.  It’s an optical illusion but the sight of a waterfall seemingly flowing upward and defying gravity makes for a compelling – and to some,  mystical – visual experience.  National parks in several countries, including Brazil, India, Japan and Australia, regularly draw tourists hoping to witness this unusual phenomenon.  But for the most part, actual evidence of reverse waterfalls has been limited to still photos and grainy hand-held video footage shot from a great distance.

Last month, R.J. Hooper, an avid recreational drone flier, managed to shoot a lengthy zoom video capturing a reverse waterfall in close up.  A long-time resident of Utah, Hooper decided to visit one of America’s best-known reverse waterfall sites – the cliffs at Kayenta, in the southwestern part of the state.  His timing was fortuitous.  Water only flows over the cliffs at Kayenta after a period of sustained and heavy snow and rainfall.  Fortunately, this year’s monsoon season in southwestern Utah had delivered just the deluge needed.  And while the winds at Kayenta aren’t always fierce – they were on the day Hooper decided to visit.

In an interview with reporters, Hoopers said it was a challenge keeping his drone steady in the blustery conditions at Kayenta that day.  In fact, he’d only seen a reverse waterfall a few times previously, largely because the winds in the area weren’t always so strong.  Hooper’s online video – first posted on his Facebook page and YouTube before it was picked up by media outlets worldwide – features images captured at various distances.  His drone circles the cliff overhead for about a minute, then zooms in and out from the waterfall as it streams backward, spewing mist and foam in a long wispy trail.

Utah’s Kayenta cliffs aren’t the only site of a reverse waterfall in the United States.  Another notable one is found at Mount Konahuanui in Oahu, Hawaii, but it’s only visible for a few seconds at a distance from a nearby highway.  India’s best-known reverse waterfall is located in the Naneghat jungle region, a good three hours by car from Mumbai.  The area is so remote that only avid trekkers claim to have witnessed it.  In Japan, reverse waterfalls typically occur at the Shiretoko National Park in Hokkaido.  It’s easy to get to and open to tourists, but it takes an intrepid visit by boat below the area’s sheer cliffs to get close enough to see the Park’s reverse waterfall in action.  Not many sign up for that voyage.

And that’s why Hooper’s video is so noteworthy.  It allows even the most sedentary among us to witness an intriguing natural phenomenon that’s been whispered about but rarely seen and documented beyond word of mouth.  It’s just one more example of how drones, even those flown by recreational operators, can enrich our experience of the world we live in.

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