This Isn’t a Still From ‘Avatar’; These Are IRL Waterfalls in NorCal

James Cameron could never… but Mother Nature sure can, as evidenced by this Northern California display of cascading water.

The deluge of water that’s fallen from the sky this month has been nothing but astonishing —staggering, jaw-dropping, regionally-catastrophe-causing. For the vast majority of the Bay Area, local rainfall averages have totaled well over 4.8” since the start of the year. To put that figure into a more digestible perspective: San Francisco historically sees just above 3.1” of rain throughout the entire month of January, which has historically been one of the wettest months in the calendar year.

San Francisco well surpassed that already… with more rain on the way. (In fact, we’re not expected to see relief in the rain until the tail end of this month — and many more inches of needed precipitation are expected to fall.) It’s this very spell of regular rain that’s pulled California out of all “exceptional drought” conditions. Though… this amount of precipitation has caused its own set of problems, which have included massive, widespread flooding, mudslides, road closures, and more.

But on the other hand, it’s also afforded us a renaissance in spilling waterfalls across Northern California. The San Francisco Chronicle recently put together a digestible listicle of places where you can see NorCal’s “roaring” waterfalls, courtesy of these torrential downpours.

Before the list — a collection of regional water attractions that include Bay Area additions like Yosemite in Sunol Regional Park and Contra Costa County’s Donner Falls — the Sacramento chapter of the National Weather Service shared a picture of Phantom Falls in the North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve near Oroville. It’s an image that could’ve been pulled straight from Avatar: The Way of the Water… and CGI-free, no less.

“The entire mesa of Table Mountain was flooded,” Mike Manzone, the photographer behind the breathtaking image, is quoted as saying about his picture. “I have personally never seen this much water up there. The phantom falls, little phantom and if you look closely to the right there is a third fall.”

Unlike the sharp peaks crowning more common mountain tops — the result of the earth’s mantle pushing upward by the collision of two tectonic plates — the slanted, bow-like topography of the North Table Mountains was when lava flows were filled by an ancient river bed. Because the igneous rock around it was less prone to erosion than the other organic materials around it, a steep slope was created. The resulting geological formation produced smooth sinuous rock that created the magical fall 166-foot-tall falls, each of them puddling into small, shallow pools at the base of the mountain.

Looking at the picture, the sheer magnitude of these recent rainfall totals comes into full frame. A year ago, the pictured green hillsides were a worrisome beige, void of any notable grass cover and tree foliage. The falls, too, rain dry.

Now, the areas around the lion-like cascades are verdant and teamed with floral life. If Cameron’s fictitious Na’vi humanoids ever crossed into this mortal plane and found themselves at eighth the base or peak of these falls, they’d feel right at home on this celestial rock.

Feature image: Courtesy of Mike Manzone

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