Mark Girardeau stands at the base of a raging waterfall and marvels at the sight.
“I’ve never seen it flowing like this,” the photographer said, his camera pointed up at Ortega Falls, where liquid the color of chocolate spilled from between the rocks.
He wasn’t alone. All weekend people made the trek down a rocky, slippery trail to check out one of the area’s magnificent waterfalls – a sight mostly unseen during the half-dozen bone-dry years of extreme drought.
“It’s just been disappointing, because there’s been nothing,” said Girardeau, who runs the website orangecountyoutdoors.com.
Recent storms have provided the best waterfall show in recent years, with at least seven likely to be active this week. Many, he points out, offer a bit of calm counter-programming to the congestion and stress of other parts of Orange County.
“It’s just so relaxing and peaceful,” he said. “I think it’s healthy for your mind to see and hear that type of thing. … You don’t have to go far from the city to just get out and enjoy it.”
A mix of people and waterfalls isn’t always a good thing. Bright-colored graffiti frames Ortega Falls, and the trail leading down to the tucked-away area is dotted with litter.
“You can tell that people stop … have lunch and just toss their trash,” Girardeau said.
“Every person that picks up a few pieces of trash, you’re helping a lot,” he added.
In turn, Girardeau is willing to share the secrets of how to get to the area’s most pristine falls.
There’s no telling how long the waterfalls will stick around, so here’s a guide if you want to check them out:
You can see the top of this waterfall just as you park on a small patch of dirt alongside Ortega Highway, with waterfall lovers taking an easy walk down a small trail that leads to the water.
It’s a quarter-mile trek to get to this waterfall, which sits just outside Orange County along the winding, scenic road as you…