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Tenaja Falls hike in the Santa Ana Mountains!

Tenaja means tank in Native American. The natives used to rely on this seasonal creek and waterfall to hold caches of water for them to last through the dry parts of the summer. 

Tenaja Falls pours over a sandstone staircase in the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness of the Santa Ana Mountains in Riverside County just north of San Diego County. 

Totaling 150 feet in height with multiple tiers, this Southern California waterfall might not compare with the beauties in Yosemite National Park, but visit during the early, rainy months of the year and Tenaja Falls is an undeniable thrill.

Let me tell you, it was not a boring hike at all. It is so easy to take the wrong trail as the signs are all gone. Of course we took the wrong way, but by doing this, I got a shot of the falls you never get to see. 

#1 The water starts to move faster…

It last rained three days before we hiked this. It was dry the week before. The best time to visit is the day after a good rain. With our work schedules this is not always possible. 

#2 The first glimpse

Aha, there it is. I can see it through the trees. We've been on this boulder hopping way, which is not the trail. Can you see my son? He is in black close to the middle. 

#4 Here is the shot no one gets.

Because it is nearly impossible to get to. This is hour two of boulder climbing the creek bed. The forest was so dense on either side, it was not possible to bush wack. We had to keep close to the creek. 

See the highest area on the left hand side? That is the trail. You can come out onto that big rock and look down over it. 

Here is where a bad decision was made. 

#5 I will start from the bottom of the fall, since this is where it started getting sketchy.

The boulders are sandstone. Meaning they are easy to climb with no ropes. You get really good traction. Can you see the dog on the lower left hand bottom of this shot? 

About that bad decision. Either go back, over all those boulders which took two hours to climb up. Or try to get to the trail which is only a half a mile back to the car, and takes ten minutes. All we have to do is make it to the top. If we stay in the crevices we should be able to do this. 

#6 So, see the crevice on the right hand side of the fall?

It follows the line of that tree, has some green grass patches in it. Can't go more to the right under the tree line. It is too heavily dense. At the top the fall curves slightly to the right. You cannot see over that ridge, but that is not the top. We thought it was. Another mistake was made. We decided to stop and take a break and rest our muscles. My legs were shaking already from the boulder hop up to this point. 

#8 The only way up from here is that ridge you see on the left. The only sandstone that wasn’t polished.

The camera got put away, time to try for the top. We got around the corner, and there was nothing but this big boulder that was on an angle you see in front of my sons fingers in this shot. There was only one finger hold big enough for four fingers, my son was able to reach the second finger hold, I was not. 

I am much shorter with not much of a spread. I started to slip. I yelled for my son, he noticed the panic in my voice. His hand was there. Just out of my reach. I had to let go and sort of free fall to him. Hoping he could catch me. Luckily he did, here I am. All I got out of the whole ordeal was when he grabbed me he had to grab an ankle, and swing me to this crevice. I hit my knee and skinned it. Ego shot, muscles soar, shaking because the dogs were with us. I was so afraid. Oh did I forget to mention I have a true fear of heights? 

Anyway, we all survived, but with soar muscles, and a great learning experience. NO rock climbing for me! 

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Written by Kim_Johnson

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