Torrential rains wash tons of debris from scenic canyon
By Chris Shaffer
Special to the Daily News
Wednesday, May 25, 2005 – Rubio Canyon activist Paul Ayers calls it Mother Nature getting her way.
Others refer to it as fate for a canyon that had been partially destroyed by human error.
Some go as far as calling it a miracle.
October 20, 2004, was a monumental day for Rubio Canyon, a former hiker haven that was destroyed in 1998 by a man-made blast that sent an estimated 25,000 cubic yards of rock tumbling in the canyon, covering waterfalls and all safe hiking and walking access.
In 1994, the Northridge Earthquake caused a minor slide in Rubio Canyon that damaged waterlines maintained by the Rubio Water Company. The water company received FEMA money to help pay for repairs and opted to blast a portion of the mountain to run a new line. But they failed to obtain proper permits from the Forest Service and when they attempted to blow a 3-foot-by-3-foot ledge in the side of the mountain to lay the pipe, they accidentally took half the mountain down, too. Rubble from the blast covered up to five waterfalls in the famed San Gabriel Valley canyon.
The Forest Service had been working on plans to remove the rubble and restore the canyon, but Mother Nature cleaned up the disaster on her own. On that late October day, a torrential rain dropped 11 inches in fewer than 24 hours, creating a massive earth-filled debris flow that swept away more than 20,000 cubic yards of rock from the canyon. The flood restored the canyon to its native state and the falls were again flowing.
“I was absolutely flabbergasted,” said Ayers, who had worked with several groups trying to remove the wreckage and restore the hiking trails in Rubio. “I thought it was going to take more than 100 years for this to happen.
“This was Mother Nature’s way of restoring the canyon. It was like pudding. There were rocks the size of cars and some as small as sand.” Ayers said. “People that claim to have heard it say that it sounded like Chevrolets coming down a flight of stairs.”
Thanks to a natural disaster hikers can again view Rubio Canyon’s eight waterfalls — Maidenhair, Moss Grotto, Ribbon Rock, Grand Chasm, Lodge Boulder, Roaring Rift, Thalehaha and Leontine. Unfortunately, Maidenhair was destroyed in the slide this fall. The former 18-foot cascade is just a three-foot drop, but some believe a small price to restore one of Southern California’s richest canyons.
Lower Rubio Canyon is thriving as a hiker’s paradise once more. Hikers can enjoy a developed trail to Leontine Falls, what many believe to be the highest single drop in the Angeles National Forest. The falls traditionally dribble this time of year, but will run through June thanks to the wet winter.
“After the accident, hiking through Rubio Canyon was dangerous. It was like walking on marbles,” Ayers said. “But now you can access three or four falls without much trouble.”