Did you ever have a hint of anxiety as a child watching your bath water swirl down the drain at the deep end of the tub? Could the drain capture a toe or perhaps a foot? What might crawl or reach from the from the soapy vortex? Alone in the steamy confines of the bathroom, would anyone hear you scream?
Small wonder a mesmerizing video clip of Lake Berryessa’s “morning glory” spillway – active for the first time in a decade – gave us pause as the giant funnel to Putah Creek below swirled across our social media feeds a few weeks back. Driven by the thrill of amping up latent bathtub anxieties to nightmare proportions, we had to go.
Like so many of the best things in California, Lake Berryessa isn’t exactly on the road to or from anywhere – unless you regularly travel between the Napa Valley and Winters along a slow and windy stretch of CA 128 through the Mayacamas Mountains. Anyone?
So we were kinda surprised as we mapped a route to Wine Country from a stop in Roseville last week to discover that the fearsome “morning glory” was on the way. Well, sort of. And it was a pretty drive.
Once we reached Monticello Dam, which holds back the lake, there wasn’t much to finding the “morning glory.” No hike up a hill. No traipsing around the waterfront. We parked the car and walked to the fence. There it was, some 200 feet beyond the dam, gulping water into its 72-foot maw at a rate of up to 362,000 gallons per second. Impressive.
We stared hard at the vortex, watching the jagged yet defined edge separating the black lake from the white rush of falling water dance like the line on a seismometer read-out during a major event. Emboldened by the chain link fence that made photography difficult but certainly provided a modicum of safety, we lost ourselves in the hushed swoosh of the water. Our adult curiosity began to co-mingle with those childhood anxieties.
“Where does all that water come out?” (A 28-foot pipe that feeds Putah Creek and is popular with skate-boarders when the spillway is dry.) “Has anyone ever been sucked in?” (Yes. It did not go well.) “Will that log perched at the lip of the spillway tumble in?” (Probably, but not during our visit.)
And then we were done. We pulled ourselves out of our heads and our car back onto CA 128 and drove on to St. Helena. Fascinating. And not so nightmarish, perhaps. But there’s a Stephen King novel just begging to be written. Go ahead and stare.
Find more stats and some cool pictures of the spillway ingress and egress when dry, click here.