Monday, January 20, 2014

Photo Essay: Hiking Old San Francisquito Canyon Road, Along the Path of the St. Francis Dam Flood

I initially visited the St. Francis Dam disaster site for some good ol' ruins, but to my delight, I also found that it is along a decommissioned road - Old San Francisquito Canyon Road - that makes for a nice hike.



Once you get down to the dam site, not far from the northern junction of San Francisquito Canyon Road and Old San Francisquito Canyon Road (which Google Maps also just calls "San Francisquito Canyon Road," not showing that it's been closed)...



...it's clear why the road was taken out of service: it was severely damaged by heavy rain...



...which, in sections, obliterated an entire traffic lane.



In the shadow of the canyon wall where the St. Francis Dam once stood...



...downstream from the reservoir, whose billions of gallons of water were released and ravaged the river valley towns all the way out to the Pacific Ocean...



...you can experience the destruction of two separate water events: one from 1928, and the other in 2005.



In some cases, you can see the wrecked pavement in the foreground, and giant chunks of concrete from the busted dam in the background, in a debris field between the "old" and the "new" San Francisquito Canyon Roads (both of which were built after the dam broke).



While some sections of the road were actually spared...



...because it is no longer being maintained, nature has begun to take over, with new sprouts breaking up through the blacktop.



This area was completely wiped out by the flood that came from the dam break, which cleared all vegetation and took trees, buildings, livestock, and people with it.



Some gnarly trees have rooted into the canyon since then.



But the canyon does look different than the surrounding areas. It probably will for a long time.



And what might appear as boulders in this Rock Slide area (now known to be along a fault line with a recent seismic history)...



...are actually large concrete pieces of the dam...



...that were carried downstream by a wall of water nearly 200 feet high...



...and deposited there.



Their smooth edges and rusty rebar are telltale signs of their manmade nature.



You can leave the road and follow the trails of previous hikers who have carved their way around the rubble...



...which is so scattered across the canyon, it appears as though from an explosion.



As you walk south down Old San Francisquito Canyon Road, all of the debris is on the right, west of the road...



...but it's hard not to turn around and face north, in the direction of where the dam once stood.



No one actually saw the break happen, though leaks (and "dirty water") had been reported earlier that day...



...and other witnesses told of driving by minutes before the break, and hearing loud noises...



...seeing that the road above (which looked down upon the dam) had moved 10 feet in a day's time...



...the most visible indication of the Paleolithic landslide that initiated the disaster.



There is so much concrete out there, stretching for a mile or more...



...and now paired with fragments of broken road.



The diverted portion of Old San Francisquito Canyon Road rejoins with the section that's open to traffic a couple of miles down from the dam site, and just a few feet from Power Plant #2.



Although the road can be hiked from either terminus (and I've walked in both directions now), it's hard not to document the perspective facing north.



Even walking away from the dam site, I kept turning around to face it.



It's quiet there now...



...the traffic on San Francisquito Canyon Road just far enough away not to disturb...



...and no motorized vehicles, or even bicycles or pedestrians, to crowd the old road, which is stable enough to walk on (for now).



It's a walk through history, with points of interest at either end (the dam to the north, and Power Plant #2 to the south), and plenty to look at along the way - if you know what you're looking at, and what to look for.



Is it morbid to walk along the path of the flood? Perhaps. Is it ghostly? Definitely. But it's also a twofold confluence of natural beauty and industry, of nature's wrath and the failure of civil engineering.



Related Posts:
Photo Essay: What's Left of the St. Francis Dam
Photo Essay: The Power Plants of the St. Francis Dam Disaster
Photo Essay: The Road That Google Maps Forgot, Old Hwy 62
Photo Essay: The Private Roads of Black Star Canyon