21. The Glitch In The Matrix


Flying over this lake near California can be a bit of bizarre experience sometimes. When David was flying his drone here, he could not believe what he saw. He thought that he was looking deep into a black hole, something he has sure defied all the basic laws of physics.

Astonished by what he was looking through the drone’s camera, he slowly descended for a closer look. Looking back, he will agree that it was not a great decision.

20. The Drowned Drone


David almost lost control trying to capture the unbelievable images over Napa County’s largest lake, Lake Berryessa. Napa County is a sunny region, known for its beauty and amazing vineyards. But nobody warned David about what looked like a portal into another dimension. 

19. The Vast And The Furious Hole


David took these astonishingly beautiful images while piloting his drone 1,000 feet up in the air over the surface of the lake. Almost two million gallons of water was leaving the lake every minute, rushing down this vortex that opened up in the middle of the lake. But where was this water going?

18. The Magnetism Of The Hole


Mesmerized, and almost hypnotized, David kept going lower and coming closer to the roaring mouth of the hole. Then, suddenly, he was literally shaken out of his hypnotized state. The drone had started wobbling due to the drag near the hole. David realized his mistake, a little too late perhaps, as the drone was shaking–almost too much to control.

17. The Great Escape


Fortunately, David is an experienced pilot and knew what he had to do.

“When I lowered the drone into the ‘Glory Hole’, it became unstable and almost crashed into the side,” he explained. He quickly guessed that the rush of draining water was creating a vacuum which pulled the drone inwards and made it unstable. He struggled to keep the drone on the correct flight path. After struggling a lot with the controls, he was finally able to pull his drone up and out of a potentially disastrous collision course.

16. Lake Berryessa


Had David failed, his drone would have landed, probably in pieces, some 2,000 feet away in Putah Creek. Lake Berryessa is not a natural lake.  It’s the seventh largest man-made lake in California, having been filled in the 1950s following the completion of the Monticello Dam.

15. The Monticello Dam


The Monticello Dam stands 304 feet tall and supplies water and electricity to almost 600,000 people across Sacramento Valley and San Francisco’s North Bay.Prior to the construction of the dam, this place housed the Monticello town. The ruins of old Monticello are still visible in the depths of Lake Berryessa when the waters run low in times of drought.

14. Death Of A Valley


Prior to its flooding, the valley was an agricultural region, whose soils were considered among the finest in the country. The main town in the valley, Monticello, was abandoned in order to construct the reservoir. David relates his escape with the town-people leaving the region. In both the cases, the innate desire to survive was common, as it always is.

13.The Mystery Unfolds


At approximately 521 billion gallons of water, the capacity of Lake Berryessa is large. Its surface rises more than 440 feet above sea level at maximum capacity. And when the dam reaches its limit, then the excess water has to go somewhere. Or else the structure itself could be damaged and might even collapse.

12. (Almost) Too Big To Fail


California, with its dry weather and frequent droughts, doesn’t normally have to worry about the water level though. It had been more than a decade since Lake Berryessa was last in any danger of overflowing. Even in October 2016, the lake was barely half-full, with the water level sitting below 400 feet.

11. Still Not Big Enough


However, whether weather agrees with this being enough, is a different matter altogether. California was hit with unusually heavy rainfall in January and February 2017. This resulted in significant damages, an ancient tree Calaveras Big Trees State Park was toppled, too. The Napa County’s water reservoirs were filled to the point of bursting and put the Lake Berryessa Black Hole into action.

10.Out Of The Blue


Glory-hole, as it is called, is a spillway sitting a few yards from the boundary of Monticello Dam, and is used to spill the excess water. The unusual shape of the structure makes for a most remarkable viewing when it’s in action.

9. The Mysterious Hole


The 72 feet wide hole has a 200-feet vertical drop which then passes water to a 28-food-wide pipe. This particular type of spillway is called a “morning glory” after the funnel-shaped flower. The Glory hole sits well above the level of the water, looking like a bizarre well within a lake.

8. The Saviour


Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the day we will all always remember as the day when we got to see the Glory Hole kick into action. When the water level rises to the 440-foot mark, the hole sucks away the extra water like a plug hole. And hence its other name, along with the more obvious “bell mouth”.

7.The Danger


An Olympic swimming pool has around half a million gallon water. Two million gallon per minute spirals down the glory hole.  The authorities keep the spillway blocked off with buoys and fences. As they say in California, “for obvious reasons, swimming near the Glory Hole is both prohibited and stupid.”

The hole has a sad history behind it, too.

6. The Sad History


In 1997, Emily Schwalek, a local, spent 20 minutes desperately clinging to the concrete rim of the spillway. Sadly, she ultimately lost her grip and her life. And yet, during the dry months, it is common to see the local skateboarders from using the Glory Hole’s horizontal exit.

5. Some More Lakes With Spillways


Other reservoirs having similar structures are Japan’s Nekogahara Pond, Shing Mun Reservoir in China and the English Ladybower Reservoir. Covão dos Conchos in Portugal has a beautifully designed spillway, something that might have made Steve Jobs cry with delight, it can easily be mistaken for a natural formation and creates a gorgeous effect when the dam overflows.

4. Bold And Beautiful

Image: William Croyle, California Department of Water Resources

Creating beautiful visuals, however, is just a side occupation of the spillways. These are vital to preventing disaster. During the same heavy rains, the Oroville Dam in California suffered a breach, it was later found that the long-disused spillway had been damaged and could collapse.

3. The Disaster Prevented

Image: Sr. Photographer, Kelly M. Grow / California Department of Water Resources

A 30-foot-deep hole opened up in the spillway, necessitating the evacuation of large areas in case of a sudden tidal wave. Close to 200,000 people were forced to flee for their lives. Fortunately, no collapse occurred, and the evacuated residents were soon able to return to their homes.

2. Standing Tall


Thankfully, the spillway at Lake Berryessa stood the test of time and stood up to the challenge. Even after the heavy rains, it continued to operate perfectly. And beautifully. 

1.The Vanishing Waterjet


The sight at Lake Berryessa attracted numerous visitors keen to see the Glory Hole from the ground and the air. Although created purely for engineering requirements, spillways also provide an out of the world spectacle.