Geology And Geophysics

How the Angel Falls of Venezuela were Discovered and Named

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"How the Angel Falls of Venezuela were Discovered and Named"
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The Angel Falls in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, plummeting from an altitude of 979 meters (3,212 ft), is the world’s highest waterfall. The water cascades from the top of the Auyantepui Mountain (Devils Mountain), a spectacular table-top mountain formation.

The Angel Falls are encircled by opaque jungle; the only means of access to the waterfalls are by boat or aircraft. Take a look at the awe-inspiring aerial view of the Angel Falls. The waterfall leaps from such an altitude that by the time the water hits the base, it is blown away by the breeze into a fine mist.

A well-deserved credit for the discovery of the Angel Falls, a magnificent geographical feature, goes to the extremely talented bush pilot and explorer, James Crawford Angel, more popularly known as Jimmie Angel.

Like most inventions and discoveries, the Angel Falls were also accidentally discovered by Jimmie Angel while he was exploring the Auyantepui Mountain looking for the lost "River of Gold."

Jimmie Angel was born on 1 August 1899, in Missouri, United States. He learned to fly at a very young age and was very passionate about it. According to Karen Angel, founder of the Jimmie Angel Historical Project (JAHP), “Jimmie Angel worked as a barnstormer, a test pilot, a movie stunt pilot, a flight instructor, and a commercial pilot hauling cargo and passengers who contracted for his services.”

Jimmie Angel was an extremely gifted pilot and loved adventure. He worked in the remote parts of Mexico, Central and South America for natural resource sector companies.

An unsubstantiated account of Jimmie Angel discloses that McCracken, an American mining geologist hired him for flying to a remote destination in the southeastern Venezuela. The duo set out and landed on top of a mountain and collected pounds of gold from a river bed on the plateau.

Thereafter, Jimmie Angel relentlessly embarked on several expeditions to trace the river of gold on top of the Auyantepui Mountain; however, he never succeeded. On one such expedition, on 18 November 1933, Jimmie set out searching for the river again, but to his greatest surprise he came face to face with a mile-long waterfall leaping atop the mountain. He immediately recorded his discovery in the pilot’s log book.

For months, Jimmie Angel told people about his spectacular discovery; but all in vain. They refused to accept his story as true since the officialmaps showed neither a tall tepui (mountain) nor a waterfall. Meanwhile, Jimmie showed the Angel Falls to two other members of an expedition team, Durand A. Hall and L. R. Dennison on 24 March 1935.

On 9 October 1937, Jimmie and his wife Marie, along with two other companions from Venezuela, boarded the airplane named El Rio Caroni acquired by Jimmie, and set out on yet another expedition in search of the lost river of gold.  The airplane was landed on top of the mountain as planned; unfortunately, the wheels cracked and submerged in the mud.

The mishap didn’t deter the team from searching for gold. After searching for two days, the team was fully convinced there was no gold to find, and the airplane was beyond repair, too. The team abandoned the airplane and started down the plateau on foot to their camp in the village of Kamarata at the bottom of the Auyantepui Mountain. Meanwhile, a rescue party was dispatched to look for the missing expedition team. They could not find Jimmie and his companions and believed they were either lost or dead.

Jimmie Angel and party reached the camp after eleven days of enduring harsh trials and tribulations on their way treading through the jungle. The story of Jimmie Angel’s adventurous expedition spread through Venezuela, and thereby the mile-long waterfall discovered by Jimmie Angel came to the limelight and attracted the attention of the world.

The discovery of the waterfall was the stepping stone which kick-started the systematic exploration of the area by the American Museum of Natural History in 1938, followed by the Great Savannah Expedition sanctioned by the Venezuelan President Jose Eleazar Lopez Contreras in December 1938.

In 1939, the Venezuelan government recognized Jimmie Angel’s discovery and honored him by officially naming the waterfall after him as Angel Falls. The Canaima National Park, established in 1962, encompasses the Angel Falls and bears a commemorative tablet honoring Jimmie Angel, who died in 1956, with the inscription "James 'Jimmie' Angel, Discoverer of Angel Falls."

A raging debate arose regarding the discovery of the Angel Falls following the naming of the waterfall after Jimmie Angel. The English aristocrat and explorer Sir Walter Raleigh was alleged to have first sighted the waterfall. This is disputed by historians, who claim Spanish explorer Fernando was the first to visit the waterfalls in the 16th century. Above and beyond, the famous Venezuelan explorer Ernesto Sanchez La Cruz claims to have discovered the waterfalls as early as in 1910.

The debate can be laid to rest by summing up that though there were several claims to the discovery of the Angel Falls, the Auyantepui Mountain as well as the Angel Falls did not find a place in the official maps of Venezuela and were not subjected to scientific investigations until their discovery by Jimmie Angel was highlighted in 1937.

Moreover, the airplane of Jimmie Angel, El Rio Caroni is physical evidence of his discovery,remaining on top of Auyantepui Mountain for 30 long years. Eventually, the Venezuelan Air Force in 1970 moved the airplane from its resting place. In 1964, the Venezuelan government officially declared the airplane, El Rio Caroni, a national monument and proudly exhibited it at the airport in Ciudad Bolivar.

The Auyantepui Mountain, also known as the “Devils Mountain,” atop of which the Angel Falls cascades were once less treaded by the indigenous Pemon Indians living in the nearest Kamarata village, as they believed it was the abode of the evil spirits. Today, the Angel Falls and the Auyantepui Mountain located within the Canaima National Park are the most-visited tourist destination.

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