My love of dry desert creeks and underground streams started as soon as I moved to the Southwest. Standing in these dry creek beds you can “hear” the water flowing, but it is really the sound of the wind flowing through the rock beds. In the flatter areas you find the stream bed by waiting and looking for a visual hint that signals the path long unused. As a child growing up in the woods of the Northeast I often followed animal trails through the wood. Broken branches, hard pressed dirt, lesser density of bush gave away the path.
Santiago Creek stretches across Orange County, California, for about 34 miles. The stream appears and disappears, sometimes hard to navigate. The Santiago starts its life between Santiago Peak, the highest peek in the county, and Modjeska Peek, which together form the prominent Saddleback of the Santa Ana Mountains, often visible from the creek bed itself. It’s headwater rises towards the Santa Anna river, first running south-southwest toward Portola Hills before turning northwest. Downstream it receives Baker and Silverado Creeks and then after Santiago Canyon Road the gorge widens to a broad alluvial plain. The banks are now visible in the distance. The flow of water is limited to this upper stretch; below water flows underground except during the winter and early spring. Still, along its path water can percolate and sit on the surface. There is a wonderful repetition in the landscape, making you feel that you have been here, seen this, walked over those stones.
Native peoples lived near this creek and in it’s watershed for nearly 12,000 years. Signs of a short lived silver boom in the 1870’s can be seen or imagined. More recent efforts to control and use the creek are seen in the more recent Santiago Dam, Irvine lake and the channelized portions of it’s lower flow. This, along with two other river systems, are my current projects.