Stanislaus National Forest
Donnell's Vista is a vertically steep part of the Stanislaus River
Canyon that the middle fork Stanislaus River cuts through. The overlook
above the lake is 6,311 feet above sea level, well over a mile high and
offers spectacular views in almost a 360 degree radius at the overlook.
The mountains on the north side are comprised of granite and dotted with pine trees. They rise up in height and are called Whittaker Dardanelles. To the right of them is the volcanic peak known as The Dardanelles. Two more peaks are situated to the right, which are the Dardanelles Butte and Dardanelles Cone.
These basalt formations that are part of the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness are volcanic remanants of the lavaflow that started at the top of Sonora Pass and flowed down the river canyon, prior to the start of the Ice Age. Looking farther east across the vista, you can see into the Stanislaus River Canyon, and even further down, the Clark Fork River basin, tucked in between the crest of the Sierra range. Even the lone granite monolith, the Iceberg Peak, can be seen miles down the viewpoint at Donnell's Vista.
The westerly view looks directly down at the blue waters of the man-made reservoir, curtained by the vertically steep canyon walls, with layers of granite bedrock with mountain pines growing out of them. The viewpoint offers a 1,390-foot drop to the reservoir. To the right side of the lake is 7,350 foot peak, Dome Rock. Situated on the left canyon wall above the reservoir is Niagra Falls. This spectacular three-level waterfall pours 700 feet from Niagra Creek into the reservoir. It consists of a 100-foot drop, then an incredible 700-foot drop, followed by a series of cascades, then a final 100-foot drop into the reservoir. This is one of the tallest waterfalls in the state, outside Yosemite. It's impossible to see these waterfalls from the vista, and are only visible from across the canyon or down at the dam. Some miles upstream, the confluence of the Clark Fork River merges into the Stanislaus River once and for all.
The Middle Fork Stanislaus River inlet feeds into the lake from the right, as you look straight down the viewpoint, to the east. Tri-Dam project approved the site for the dam in 1948, with construction beginning in 1955, with completion by December 1956. The high concrete-arch dam is 483 tall from the base of the dam, with the crest length at 960 feet, and a crest width of 10 feet. The elevation of the crest is 4,917 feet, with the 220-foot overflow spillway at 4,898 feet in elevation, with five radial gates at the top of the spillway.
The minimum surface water elevation of the reservoir is 4,720 feet, with the maximum surface water elevation at 4,916 feet, which is a foot below the crest of the 4,917 dam. The drainage area of the reservoir is 230 square-miles, with gross water storage at 64,325 acre-feet, with usable storage at 59,325 acre-feet. The surface area at maximum water elevation is 425 acres. The length of the reservoir is 2.2 miles long, with a width of 2,500 feet, and depth of 247 feet, and a shoreline length of 6.1 miles across the reservoir. The dam and lake are the private property of Tri-Dam.
Michael Landon chose the vista along with other nearby locales for the fourteenth season opener "Forever". The outdoor filming took place in July 1972 for several days. A little over 2 years later in August 1974, he was back at the same vista and other nearby locales, filming the outdoor exteriors for the Little House episode "The Lord Is My Shepherd". Ten years later, in September of 1986, he would film what was the last Sierra footage filmed in his career in the 'Highway to Heaven' episode "Man to Man", at the vista, with other outdoor shots at Kennedy Meadows.
Directions from Los Angeles: Drive I-5 north over Grapevine, and then merge north on State Route 99. Exit McHenry Ave in Modesto (Highway 108) and drive east past Riverbank, Oakdale and Sonora. As you enter the forest, about 45 miles east up the highway, you'll see the vista marker and turn left into the parking area and you are there.
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