"Lost" Giant Waterfall Discovered in California

Blake de Pastino
National Geographic News
August 15, 2005

Four hundred feet (122 meters) of raging whitewater sound hard to miss—let alone to find, lose, and then rediscover. But that's what has happened in a California park.

Officials at the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area in northern California announced recently that a park ranger has discovered a giant waterfall that had languished unseen for decades because of rugged territory and inaccurate maps.

Park Ranger Russ Weatherbee discovered the cascading falls in late 2003 after years of hearing tales about a mammoth falls hidden away in the park. Officials waited to go public with the find until plans were approved to create a trail to the falls. They have named the cascades Whiskeytown Falls.

"There's a local mining community with people whose families have been there literally through the gold rush era, and I'd been hearing these rumors that there was a big waterfall in Crystal Creek somewhere," Weatherbee said.

The 15-year park employee said he grew curious about the location of the storied cataract, but he didn't know where to begin looking for it. He found his first clue while cleaning out an old Park Service map cabinet in the fall of 2003.

Weatherbee discovered a park map dating from the early 1960s that marked the location of a remote waterfall some 15 miles (24 kilometers) from where the park's headquarters now stand.

"So I went and hiked up that section that the dot [on the map] was on," he said. "However, there was nothing there."

Undeterred, Weatherbee returned to park headquarters and continued his search. A few weeks later, he began scanning aerial photos of the 42,500-acre (17,200-hectare) park. In one picture, he saw a white strip running over steep terrain, some two-thirds of a mile (1 kilometer) from where the map had incorrectly placed the falls.

The ranger teamed up with park geologist Brian Rasmussen, and the two went into the woods.

"We decided to hike in there," Weatherbee said, "and lo and behold."

The falls cascade down a gradual series of three granite tiers over a drop of approximately 400 feet. While not one for the record books, Whiskeytown Falls may be the largest in California's mountainous Shasta County, Weatherbee reported.

"We were pretty impressed," he said of the find.

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