Recent storms have turned Southern California’s usually bone-dry wilderness into dazzling green landscapes, snow-capped mountains, and something even more breathtaking: rarely seen waterfalls.
After severe storm systems brought rain and snow to Angeles National Forest, motorists along Highway 39, north of Azusa, were gifted with the rare sight of temporary waterfalls cascading down the rocky bluffs.
On Wednesday morning, a pair of spontaneous waterfalls, dozens of feet high, could be seen just south of the San Gabriel Dam, flowing into the San Gabriel River. Drivers stopped to take photos, including a Times photographer who snapped photos of several waterfalls along the highway, which meanders through the forest to Crystal Lake.
The road has since been closed to traffic north of Azusa as Caltrans workers clear a rock slide, meaning these images are the only way to see the falls before they dry up.
There is up to six feet of snow in some places in Southern California. According to meteorologist Carol Smith of the National Weather Service in Los Angeles/Oxnard, the San Gabriel Dam received more than 10 inches of rain in the past week.
That was apparently enough to bring long-dry waterfalls to life, she added.
“We’ve had a lot of big storms, so it all adds up,” Smith said.
Winter storms have brought so much precipitation that some parts of California are no longer experiencing drought. Some parks, including Yosemite National Park and the Mojave National Preserve, are closed indefinitely due to extreme weather and resulting damage.
Access to Angeles National Forest remains limited by several road closures due to mudslides and rockslides, said Dana Dierkes, a public affairs officer for the forest. On Wednesday, an avalanche occurred on Mt. Baldy. Residents of mountain communities are struggling under the heavy snowfall, some trapped in their homes.
Dierkes warned visitors not to try to chase waterfalls.
“There are still many roads into the forest that are currently closed or have very limited access,” Dierkes said.
Times photographer Raul Roa, who photographed the falls before the road was closed, said he had never seen anything like it in more than 30 years of visiting the forest. Waterfalls crashed in places where he has only seen faint water spots.
“Even from about 100 yards away, the sound of the water crashing into the rocks as it tumbles down the hill is loud and intense,” Roa said. He estimated that some of the falls were at least 100 feet (30 m) high.
“This was obviously a very rare year as far as winter goes,” Dierkes said. “The amount of snow we’ve been getting and the repeated storms have led to a very unusual weather phenomenon in the Angeles National Forest and surrounding mountains.”