Rocky Gorge and Dorothy Sparks

Rocky Gorge, located just off the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire's White Mountains, is a powerful narrow gorge where water is almost always rushing through, even during droughts. Carved by glaciers, the Gorge is a breathtaking scenic area where water pours over the 15-foot falls with a deafening thunder. Water at the foot of the falls churns ferociously as it sends the Swift River on down its way. The footbridge over the gorge provides an excellent photo opportunity looking upstream to where the Swift River narrows as it cascades into the gorge.


There is no swimming allowed at the gorge due to the dangerous current. In fact, someone almost drowned there decades ago. Here is her story......


On July 20, 1942, 24-year-old Dorothy Sparks went for a cookout with friends at Rocky Gorge. As the group walked along the banks of the Swift River, one of them noticed that Dorothy was no longer with them. They waited awhile thinking she was bringing up the rear, and when she didn’t appear, retraced their steps back up the river bank, where they had last seen her. Fear quickly consumed the group as they began to realize that she may have fallen into the gorge.


It took nearly two hours to get help to the Rocky Gorge. After quickly scouring the area, the rescue team reached the same conclusion as Dorothy’s friends. She was most likely submerged in the roiling waters at the foot of the falls. While probing the water, Trooper Hayward struck something solid and shortly after a piece of cloth emerged. It was pink, the same color as Dorothy’s bathing suit.


With this information, the group of rescuers was certain Dorothy Sparks was dead in the water beneath the falls. As much as they wanted to retrieve her, the water was too strong to let them fish Dorothy out, so they came up with a plan. Working upstream, the rescue team built a makeshift dam and forced the river to overrun its banks and bypass the falls.


With the waterfall held back and reduced to a trickle, Trooper Hayward hooked something. He saw a hand coming to the surface of the pool beneath the falls. Hayward reached into the water and grabbed the hand, and the hand grabbed his back.


With Dorothy safe and sound, she recalled her misadventure. Her daredevil nature had gotten the better of her and she bet herself that she could skip across the rocks in the river above the falls and come out on the other side. Halfway across, Dorothy slipped and fell in, and the Swift River shot her over the falls. She luckily managed to position herself at the rear of a cave behind the falls that held a tiny pocket of air and waited until rescuers found her.


Excerpted from New England Historical Society. Read the entire story here.


This popular roadside attraction is one of my favorite stops along the Kancamagus Highway while cruising through the White Mountain National Forest. The scene I chose to capture is of a late summer rest stop when my husband and I were on our way home from a quick anniversary getaway. The September weather was perfect for a quick walk around the gorge, a stop on the footbridge, then a jaunt around Falls Pond before heading back to Maine.


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