Here are some photos I took of the Big Santa Anita Canyon ten years ago when Southern California experienced its’ last significant El Nino fall & winter. Wrightwood & the Big Santa
Anita are about 25 air miles apart from one another. It’s possible to hike (approx. 75 miles) between Wrightwood and where these winter images were taken out
in the Angeles National Forest’s “front country.” What the two places share, of course, are the San Gabriel Mountains!
When warmish Pacific Ocean storms come in off the coast, it’s the front country that faces the San Gabriel Valley and Los Angeles Basin, that really gets slammed. You might say that our mountain rain is a text
book example of the orographic phenomena experienced on immeasurable mountain slopes. If the base of the mountain, L.A. for example, receives an inch of rain, 2000′ upslope you
might receive over two to three inches out of the same storm. The mountainous geography wrings out the clouds as you keep climbing up in elevation. As a rule, Wrightwood receives about a third of what the front country slopes might
get. When it’s summer time, however, our proximity to the Mojave Desert provides us with thunder storms that the front country can only dream about. So both sides of the San Gabriels have their give and take when it comes to wet weather.
Big Santa Anita Canyon is not a large watershed at all, say in comparison to the San Gabriel
River. Yet, it’s miles of steep terrain can become saturated after days of relentless rainfall. Generally, the “canyon” can take upwards of a dozen inches of rain over several days before the stream comes up appreciably. The El Nino storm systems of 2004-2005 sometimes came in one after another, barely allowing more than a half day of blue sky and no time for the moisture to percolate down through the fractured rocky slopes. These photos show what a front-country stream can become after multiple storms come through, one after another. What they can’t convey, is the deafening sound, so loud in some cases that it’s impossible to yell across a stream this size and be heard. When in a little cabin alongside a roaring stream like this one, it’s possible at night, to feel and hear the impact of shifting boulders, jarring up against each other in the dark froth. Scent is a also a highlight of canyons in flood stage. Organics
locked away in loamy soils along stream banks for years and years are suddenly released. There’s this olfactory collage of crushed and soaked bay leaves, oak leaves, decomposing vegetation and grinding rock that are seldom experienced in drier times.
by Chris Kasten
This poem by W.S. Merwin, entitled “Rain Travel”, seems to encapsulate the nocturnal in watery canyons, like the Big Santa Anita, during times like these.
“I wake in the dark and remember it is the morning when I must start by myself on the journey. I lie listening to the black hour before dawn and you are still asleep beside me while around us the trees full of night lean hushed in their dream that bears us up asleep and awake. Then I hear drops falling one by one into the sightless leaves and I do not know when they began but all at once there is no sound but rain and the stream below us roaring away in the rushing darkness”.