With mountain waterfalls, a sometimes fatal attraction lures hikers with its beauty – San Bernardino Sun

They all come to Big Falls.

The 3-year-old from San Bernardino whose father wanted to show him something “dramatic”. The 70-year-old from Las Vegas who screamed when she tiptoed into a freezing pool. Colleagues in their twenties who came to see a “spectacular” natural feature.

And the 38-year-old Moreno Valley man who spoke eloquently of the cool water, the smell of dead pines, and the lacquered look of rocks in the Forest Falls area of ​​the San Bernardino Mountains.

The lure is simple, said Lynette Paoli, 59, who has lived in Forest Falls for 26 years and runs the Elkhorn General Store on Valley of the Falls Drive.

  • Latoyah Williams, left, and Courtney Fairconeture descend a rocky slope at Big Falls Waterfall in Forest Falls on Tuesday, July 26, 2022. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • A man walks his dog near the base of a...

    A man walks his dog near the base of a tree at Big Falls Waterfall in Forest Falls on Tuesday, July 26, 2022. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • People walk to Big Falls waterfall in Forest Falls...

    People walk to Big Falls Waterfall in Forest Falls on Tuesday, July 26, 2022. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Hoyun Jean, 72, of Las Vegas, reacts to the cold...

    Hoyun Jean, 72, of Las Vegas, reacts to the cold as she wades through the water at Big Falls Waterfall in Forest Falls on Tuesday, July 26, 2022. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Mikaila Keck, 18, left, and her family walk to...

    Mikaila Keck, 18, left, and her family walk to Big Falls Waterfall in Forest Falls on Tuesday, July 26, 2022. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Left to right, 18-year-old Mikaila Keck with dad, Jonathan, and sister,...

    From left, 18-year-old Mikaila Keck with her father, Jonathan, and sister, Maven, head to Big Falls Waterfall in Forest Falls on Tuesday, July 26, 2022. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise /SCNG)

“It’s the waterfalls,” Paoli said. “Everyone wants to come here and be cooler. It’s so hot down the hill. Bring their family, have a picnic, just have a good time. So it’s fine as long as you don’t try to climb the mountain and fall.

And that’s the catch. Or sometimes, slippage. In the midst of great beauty there can be great danger.

On Sunday, Riverside residents Annalea DeHaro and her husband Richard DeHaro fell 20 feet from the middle waterfall. Annalea DeHaro was injured and Richard, 43, died.

It was at least the second fatal fall in the Forest Falls area this year. On May 2, after likely falling about 80 feet, 33-year-old Robert Carey Jr. of Calimesa was found unconscious at the base of a waterfall in Big Falls.

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department has responded to at least two other fatal crashes at the falls since 2016, said department spokeswoman Mara Rodriguez. Each year, the aviation unit will perform between eight and 10 winch rescues from the falls, Rodriguez said.

In 2018, the San Bernardino County Fire Department responded to falls accidents 19 times, spokesman Eric Sherwin said. Almost everything, he said, happened in a “historically treacherous” section of the falls’ midsection, known colloquially as “blood rock.” The large, smooth rock overlaps a pool that visitors often cool off in and features a steep drop of 20 to 40 feet to the rocky, shallow bottom of the falls.

“It’s a rock over the centuries that water has flowed over and that rock is smooth as glass,” Sherwin said. “People hiking in the morning wear proper footwear and it’s not uncommon for people to climb back down to remove their shoes and then slip and fall just over the edge.”

A fall from a blood rock can leave a hiker with life-altering — or even life-changing — bumps and bruises or injuries, Sherwin said.

“On the way down, you can hit the side of the falls or ricochet off surrounding rock faces,” he said.

However, since 2018, the San Bernardino National Forest has periodically closed hiking sections beyond the viewing platform, which sits above the lower falls and features a metal railing. On June 16, forestry officials ordered the closure of the area within 150 feet of Falls Creek near the waterfall and the area between the viewing platform at the end of Big Falls Trail and the area beyond the top of Upper Big Falls, according to the US Forest Service. The closure will remain in effect until June 17, 2023 and may result in a maximum fine of $5,000 per individual violator, the agency said.

These closures were sometimes ignoredNevertheless.

Those closures led to a dramatic decrease in the number of responses from firefighters: they fell to just three in 2019, one in 2020 and four in 2021, according to Sherwin. So far in 2022, the fire department has only responded three times.

“We absolutely know there is a difference when there is a shutdown in effect,” Sherwin said.

The waterfalls are fed year-round by the snowfall that fills Falls Creek. A narrow jet of water zigzags down the mountain before dispersing in a wider path through Big Falls. Water cascades into pools where, on Tuesday, July 26, visitors set up camping chairs, played with toy boats, took pictures of themselves and doused their dogs.

The falls are easily accessible compared to others in the San Bernardino National Forest. The trailhead is just a 45 minute drive from Riverside and the lower waterfall is about a 10 minute walk from the parking lot. Trail websites list the hike as “easy” but requires careful stepping over rocks and fallen trees and navigating elevation changes.

Sherwin encouraged hikers to know their physical limits and respect them.

“We saw people on San Gorgonio Mountain and made it a two-day camping trip, and there are other people coming and going before work in the morning,” Sherwin said. “They are two different abilities. Please enjoy the backcountry responsibly.

Few of the day trippers interviewed Tuesday knew about the DeHaro accident or other similar tragedies. But they all expressed the need for caution.

Jonathan Keck, 39, of San Bernardino brought his wife and their children, ages 3, 6 and 18. As a sheriff’s helicopter passed, he said he wanted to be more active and “especially after COVID (I) really want to get out.”

Keck, visiting Big Falls for the first time, discovered the site on an app.

“I was looking for something a little more dramatic for them,” Keck said, pointing to her kids. “I have no intention of putting them in a slippery situation.”

David Romero, 25, from Redlands, was also a first-time visitor and was accompanied by three colleagues. He’s seen footage of the falls and their steep fall, “but it’s quite spectacular,” he said.

Marc Tutwiler, 38, of Moreno Valley, has visited Big Falls four times in the past two months. It’s a special sensory experience for him.

“I like the noise, the freshness of the water. When the rocks are wet, they have a different visual effect,” he said.

Tutwiler also talked about a hike to the upper falls. On the observation deck, where the trail ends, there is a metal railing from which visitors can watch others play in the pools below.

“It gave us the impression that you’re supposed to come up – but you’re not,” he said.

Keith P. Plain