Jimmie Angel gripped the controls of his airplane. The small plane rattled and bucked. Angel and his three passengers peered down. They were fl ying above the dense jungle of eastern Venezuela, in South America. Towering, fl at-topped mountains called tepuis rose from this jungle. They looked like sky-high forts. Angel hoped they wouldn’t crash into one. It was 1937. Few people had ever seen this remote area. Angel, a daring American pilot, had. He had fl own over it four years before. He was back to explore. Angel finally spotted what he was looking for. It was a towering waterfall. The waterfall plunged thousands of meters off a tepui called Auyantepui. The waterfall was so high that most of the water turned to mist before it hit the ground. Angel wanted to see it up close. He fl ew lower. Then with a bump, he landed his plane on top of the tepui. Many years later, the falls would be measured and found to be the
tallest waterfall on Earth. It plunges straight down almost a kilometer. Jimmie Angel was the first person to bring this incredible waterfall to the world’s attention. So it was named Angel Falls.
Mysterious Mountain Angel wasn’t the first person to see Angel Falls. T e Pemón people lived nearby. T e falls and the loſt y mountain it plunged from frightened them. T ey believed that evil spirits lurked there. T ey called Auyantepui “Devil’s Mountain.” T ey stayed away from it. It’s easy to understand why. Soaring cliff s
guard the mountain. It is oſt en cloaked in clouds. Strange sandstone rock formations and dizzying waterfalls made the mountain seem even more mysterious. What sort of world did that thundering waterfall come from? Now, of course, we know. T e top of
Auyantepui is big—over 10 times larger than Manhattan Island in New York. A small river called the Guaja fl ows across it. When the Guaja reaches the edge of the tepui, it plunges down, down, down. T at’s Angel Falls. At the bottom, the Guaja tumbles into the Churún River. Churún means “thunder” in English. Auyantepui is one of the biggest tepuis, but
it isn’t the only one. T ere are over 100 tepuis in southern Venezuela, Guyana, and Brazil. T e tepuis are the rocky remnants of a thick layer of sandstone.
12 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC EXPLORER
Jimmie Angel’s plane sat on top of the tepui for many years. It got stuck in the mud when he landed.
Rocky Remnants Hundreds of millions of years ago, the tepuis were all connected in a fl at plateau that stretched for many kilometers. Over time, rain, wind, and frost cut away at the plateau. T e weathering wore down the sandstone. Weathering slowly broke down and
crumbled the rock into smaller pieces. Streams, rivers, and wind carried the pieces away, in the process called erosion. Slowly, weathering and erosion etched
crevasses and valleys into the sandstone plateau. T e valleys grew wider and wider. T e bits of plateau leſt behind became smaller. By about 70 million years ago, all that was leſt of the sandstone plateau were the tepuis. Weathering and erosion are still changing
this landscape. T e changes are so slow we can’t see them. But each year, the tepuis become a tiny bit smaller. Angel Falls is part of this long process.
Where the falls plummet over the edge, the thundering water has carved a deep notch into the edge of Auyantepui. Wind gusts and waves of spray are created by the falls crashing against the rocks.
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