The Mightiest of Rivers

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The Mightiest of Rivers

The Amazon is by far the world's greatest river, navigable by ocean—going ships for over 2,300 miles. Vessels from all nations make regular trips completely across Brazil and into Peru or to any of the countries of the Amazon headwaters. Yet it is a river of very humble origin.

High in the cloud—piercing Peruvian Andes, only about seventy miles from the Pacific Ocean, a tiny trickle of water flows from under an ice field 18,383 feet above sea level. At 17,220 feet the uneven stream of water collects in a lake scarcely 100 feet across. Here is the most distant source of water that flows into the Amazon. At first the water is only ankle deep, but as it cascades down the mountainside numerous rivulets join in and its volume grows rapidly. Soon it is a full—fledged mountain river, churning muddy brown and red as it roars through numerous mountain gorges. For its first 600 miles the Amazon drops over 27 feet per mile. Finally it squeezes through a gap called the Gateway of Fear and bursts onto the jungle as a great hydraulic explosion.

Other sources of the Amazon are numerous and scattered, but many are similar icy mountain streams that drain the high regions of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela as well as Brazil. The water in the highlands falls over many gorges, the most formidable being an 877—foot waterfall that pours into the Apur

From the book: 
Our Fascinating Earth