Back in the mid-1990s, Huell Howser made his way into the San Jacinto wilderness to explore the wonders that many didn’t know existed. The American television personality who hosted “California’s Gold,” a human interest show produced by KCET in Los Angeles for California PBS stations, adventured through the Sunshine State to shed light on the amazing sites it has to offer.
Howser took a trip on Jan. 8, 1997 through a 13-mile tunnel through the San Jacinto Mountains excavated by the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) during the 1930s as part of the 242-mile Colorado River Aqueduct, which brings water to Southern California.
“There was excitement in the air as we set out to explore this wonderful, seldom seen part of Mt. San Jacinto,” said Howser during filming.
Howser and MWD spent three hours traveling and exploring the 13-mile tunnel, sharing a rare glimpse into a world less than 500 people have ever seen since its creation.
That portion, the 13-mile tunnel, took about six years to complete as they dug through solid rock on the northern edge of the San Jacinto Mountains.
The tunnel, a huge and extremely complicated engineering project, still ranks as one of the most difficult ever attempted. The 16-foot tall tunnel usually has 1.2 billion gallons of water a day flowing through it, but once every five to six years, the water is shut off for a day or so to allow for inspections.
Howser took advantage of this opportunity to explore the tunnel and also make some unusual discoveries once inside.
“Oh wow, look at this,” Howser exclaimed. “This is wonderful. We loaded up on a little tractor-pulled wagon that turned out to be a three-hour adventure full of surprises.”
There are small clams that live in the Colorado River and make their way to the San Jacinto Mountains through the aqueduct, all 242 miles of it. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the Corbicula fluminea, also known as the Asian Clam, are the species that live in those waters.
Howser got to see dozens of these tiny creatures for himself as he traveled through the tunnel commenting, “You got clams in here? This little clam has come all the way from the Colorado River. There’s a lot of little clams in here. Look at that!”
Natural groundwater from Mt. San Jacinto also worked its way into the tunnel, shooting horizontal flows through the tunnel walls strong enough to knock you down at approximately 180 pounds per square inch, according to Jay Malinowski, who was the chief of operations for the MWD at that time.
“So look at this thing,” said Howser. “It’s just shooting across the tunnel. Oh my gosh! This water is what the fellas that made this tunnel were coming up against all the time ... And the next time we turn on our water, we’ll have a little bit more of an appreciation of where it comes from.”
If you want to see the show, visit https://blogs.chapman.edu/huell-howser-archives/1997/01/08/mt-san-jacinto-californias-gold-804/.
Howser passed away Jan. 7, 2013 reportedly of cancer at the age of 64 at his home in Palm Springs. He worked until 2012 when he retired. Howser visited Idyllwild many times throughout his career.