Big Santa Anita Creek Is Dry, Dry, Dry…

Posted on August 14, 2014 – Written by Chris Kasten

Three years in a row of sub-normal precipitation has taken its’ toll on the Big Santa Anita Creek throughout the canyon as well as the entire Angeles National Forest.   Plants and animals throughout the San Gabriels are feeling the impact.  Big Santa Anita Canyon’s stream is now running underground in many places where in years past you might have seen and heard water flowing in even the hottest months.  Sturtevant Falls is just a trickle.  It’s magnificent plunge pool reduced to just a stagnant little puddle in the glaring mid-day sunlight.  What little water that makes its’ tumbling way down the 55′ high rock face sounds little better than a half-flowing garden hose placed up at the top followed by a slap, slap, slapping broken chorus of wet.  Once tumultuous, cool pools are now fringed with dead mosses and algae.

Big Santa Anita Canyon’s stream bed has turned dry. This scene, looking up canyon, is midway between Roberts’ Camp and Fern Lodge.

Vast stretches of white sands are mixed with the black pieces of muddy organic deposits that settled in like the bottom of a still and quiet lake.  You can see this as you make your way down along the Big Santa Anita Creek on the Hermit Falls trail between Roberts’ Camp and First Water.  Check out these dry, flat and pungent stream bed crossings that once had swimming fish and the flotsam of countless water striders on peaceful waters.  The mexican quick weed, seemingly immune to these endless hot days of dryness, fringe these once wet spaces and in places are glade-like, blocking your view of the ground.  Suddenly, the air lifts the pungent scent of dried out plant and animal life, filling your senses in a way that leave the words out of your thoughts. Our common organic connection, constant and everlasting.  I’m reminded of an ancient past that was never handed down to me through the pastels of words.  Haunted and somehow led back toward home – in a good and kind sort of way.

Poison oak leaves reddening early in the season amidst manzanita. Upper Falls Trail.

Yet, like everything we and this old earth go through, it will come to pass away.  Drought is a familiar visitor in these steep, deep canyons.  A new winter will come with its’ fulfilled promises of rain and life.  The sound of tumbling waters and the staccato call of canyon wrens will bounce back off the ancient rocky walls of the canyons, again.   Once, again, if you miss that jump across the creek, your boots and socks will be soaked.  The glance between you and the hidden trout will happen once more.  It will happen to you.  The seasons go round and round.

Chantry Flats Hike – Mt. Zion Trail for Vistas & Solitude

Posted on July 28, 2014 – Written by Chris Kasten

Looking north and east toward Newcomb Pass from the Mt. Zion Trail. A small portion of the Gabrielino Trail is barely visible across the canyon.

This is one of the quietest of the Chantry Flats hikes to be had.  While out repairing the Big Santa Anita Canyon’s crank telephone line,  I decided to hike over the Mt. Zion Trail from Sturtevant Camp to Hoegees, down in the Winter Creek.  Although the day was hot and muggy, the views were sharp and clear.  Passing along this north side of Mt. Zion, I’m always amazed at how big the trees are.  Canyon live oak, laurel bay and big cone spruce abound in these quiet side canyons.  As you climb up toward Mt Zion’s saddle, at an elevation of 3,500′, views toward the back country begin to open up.  The San Gabriel Wilderness’ labyrinth of twisting canyons is visible to the north and east, with the horizon bounded by the summits of Mt. Waterman and Twin Peaks.

Some kind soul has placed hand holds and steps to help hikers & mountain bikers get across this fallen big cone spruce.

Here and there, you can still make out the remnants of a long-abandoned crank telephone line that once spanned Mt. Zion.  This line connected Sturtevant’s and Hoegee’s Camps back during the Great Hiking Era, circa: 1890′s – 1920′s.  The oxidized copper wire that you may have noticed on your Chantry Flats hike is still in use today.  Crank telephones connect the Adams Pack Station with emergency call boxes dotted here and there along the trails.  There’s more on this antique phone system and how it works in another one of my earlier blogs.

Ceramic split insulator remains attached to a dead big cone spruce. The phone wire running through it has been abandoned since the early 1950′s.

Continuing up the trail toward the Mt. Zion saddle, at 3,500′ elevation, the foliage turns to chaparral plants.   Manzanita, sumac, chamise and buck brush (wild lilac) begin to make their presence.   Shade becomes less and less frequent as the descent toward the Winter Creek begins.  Switchbacks steeply descend down the south side of the mountain, with constant views out toward Monrovia Peak, the San Gabriel Valley, Chantry Flats, Manzanita Ridge and even Mt. Harvard with its’ boxy, metallic communications building straddling the summit.

Mt. Zion Trail’s approach near the Lower Winter Creek Trail junction.

Near the bottom of the descent, oaks and even white alders begin to grace the trail. The shade and damp coolness make a comeback, the heat letting up.  Heart breaking gold light gathers under the canopy as I approach the Lower Winter Creektrail junction.  Good times.

Looking up into a grand canyon live oak. Note the bit of remnant phone line running across the bark.

This Gopher Snake Is Doing Her Part in Keeping Down the Rodents

Posted on June 24, 2014 – Written by Chris Kasten

This gopher snake is doing her part in keeping down the rodents.  This photo was taken recently in the Fern Lodge area of Big Santa Anita Canyon.  Snakes of all kinds abound, mostly non-venemous.  All snakes are by nature, secretive, preferring to not be seen.  Unfortunately, gopher snakes are occasionally mistaken for rattlesnakes.  However, this snake, like most, is harmless to people.  Gopher snakes seek out mice, rats, frogs  and occasionally ground squirrels.   This snake is also a mortal enemy to rattlesnakes.

Gopher Snake in rock wall. Big Santa Anita Canyon, Fern Lodge area.

Like king snakes, gopher snakes  take their prey through constriction, swallowing their catch whole.  This is done by the snake purposely dislocating its’ jaws, allowing larger prey to pass on through to the esophagus and stomach.  Gopher snakes can grown upwards of 4′ in length, climbing through rocks and even occasionally up a tree!   My wife and I once watched a 3 footer climb up the side of a mature canyon live oak at the trail junction of the Upper Falls and Gabrielino trails.  It was amazing to watch it slowly and carefully work it’s way up the steeply sloping trunk.  These are patient creatures to say the least!  If you are lucky enough to spot one, give him or her a little space.

Rattlesnakes Have Woken Up in the Winter Creek!

Posted on May 9, 2014 – Written by Chris Kasten

While out hiking, keep your eyes open for rattlesnakes.  Rattlesnakes have woken up in the Winter Creek, as well as in other canyons around Chantry Flats.   As the spring days continue to lengthen and temperatures rise, reptiles of all kinds are coming out of their seasonal slumber. From subterranean dens to sun bathed rocky hillsides and canyon bottoms, these creatures are back among the mammals, birds, insects and fish.

I encountered this Southern Pacific rattlesnake (crotalus helleri) while out on the Lower Winter Creek Trail this last Saturday.  Rattlesnakes are naturally secretive and will avoid human encounters if given the chance.  They are good mousers, helping to keep the rodent population at a tolerable level.  Like all living creatures, they need to be respected and protected from harm.  The creature in this photo had just signaled her alarm, giving me a quick wake-up to give some distance.  This is one reason why it’s a good idea to not have ear-buds in your ears while hiking or running, drowning out nature’s communications.

Recent Rains Bring Blessings to Canyon Streams of the Angeles National Forest

Posted on March 5, 2014 – Written by Chris Kasten

Last weekend’s double storm system brought much needed moisture to the Big Santa Anita Canyon.  The San Gabriel mountains, along with most of Southern California, received a brief reprieve from the lengthy drought.  Multitudes of canyons received enough rain (little snow) to thoroughly scour out the stream beds.  The black organic mat which had affixed itself to all the rocky and sandy bottoms of streams and pools the last couple of years was washed away in just a few days.

White and tan sands have once again come into view.  Pools that had decreased in depth have deepened.  This is good news, not only from the standpoint of esthetics, but for wildlife.  Fish and other creatures will benefit from this natural cleansing.  Spawning will now become possible.  Water temperatures will decrease and available oxygen will increase.  This change is good for everyone.

Our rain gauge near Fern Lodge Junction, not far from Chantry Flats, received over 7.36″ of combined rain from the two storms.  The sounds of a tumbling mountain stream have returned and the myriad of organic scents are throughout the Big Santa Anita and Winter Creeks.  Especially noticeable is the staccato call of the Canyon Wren, with the descending notes reminiscent of laughter followed by a quick little question….   The dust is gone for now and everything gleams clean and green.  

The attached photo was taken last Sunday just above Sturtevant Falls on the Upper Falls Trail.  Notice that the water has been colored by the tannins of fallen leaves and abundant organics from the mountain soils.  A hopeful big leaf canyon maple puts out her fresh leaves and catkins.

Polypody Fern Beds Are Prevalent & Lush In The Front Country Canyons of Mount Wilson

Posted on February 7, 2014 – Written by Chris Kasten

Despite the lack of rain and snow as of early February, the shady north-facing  canyon slopes of the Mt. Wilson area still appear damp and green.  Regardless of the steepness of the mountainsides, if there’s enough shade and crevices in the rocks to set roots, then it’s likely you’ll happen upon some fern beds. These nearly vertical meadows of ferny green are native to the southern california coastal and inland mountains.   By summer when the rains are long over and the temperatures climb, California polypody  (Polypodium californicum) withers to dry, light brown stalks that would give little clue to their winter time fullness.

Polypody fern bed on damp slope in East Fork of Big Santa Anita Canyon. It just takes a little rain to bring these ferns back!
A wooden footbridge graces the tumbling waters of the Big Santa Anita Creek at Fern Lodge junction. This photo, taken during the Great Hiking Era, quite likely dates back to the teens or early 1920’s.

So, watch for this beautiful, native perennial on your next hike out of Chantry Flats or any of the front country trailheads.  Both of these photos were taken in the Fern Lodge area of Big Santa Anita Canyon, about 1 1/2 miles in from the Chantry Flats trailhead.  Fern Lodge was once a thriving mountain resort during the “Great Hiking Era.”  True to its’ name, ferns of several varieties still abound.  Today, there is still a beautiful little community of private cabins here, set among the wooded stream side ledges.  Many hikers know this area also as the place where the Upper Falls and Gabrielino trails meet at Fern Lodge Junction.

A Great Gift Idea For Your Chantry Flats Hiker!

Posted on December 8, 2013 – Written by Chris Kasten
An early spring time view looking downstream near First Water in the Big Santa Anita Canyon.

The best gifts often come in small packages.   Big Santa Anita Canyon Trails Map makes a good stocking stuffer for just about anyone that’s exploring the trails that radiate out from Chantry Flats.  Opened up, it measures 15″x22″, provides an uncluttered image of the trails, junctions and points of interest.  Folded, it’s only 5 1/2″ x 7 1/2″, so will slip easily into your pack.  Use this map along with the free “Hikes” page located on the website.  Directions, mileages between points, photos and elevation gain / loss profiles from the Hikes Page will dovetail perfectly with the map.  This is the gift of outdoor experience.  The Big Santa Anita Canyon Trails Map sells for less than $5.00 and comes with FREE SHIPPING!      

November is the Month to See Autumn Splendor While Hiking at Chantry Flats

Posted on November 23, 2013 – Written by Chris Kasten

This picture was taken while crossing Big Santa Anita’s creek in the Fern Lodge area, about a mile and a half in from Chantry Flats.  It was dusk when I looked down and saw this partially submerged collage of maple and alder leaves which seemed to radiate their own light back up to me.  While very little rain has fallen in the last two years in Southern California, the streams in the front country of the San Gabriels continue to display an annual phenomenon that is often not perceived upon first glance.  The water level actually begins to come back up a little bit as the deciduous trees drop their leaves.  Sturtevant Falls seems to be flowing with a little more gusto the last couple of weeks.  Hundreds of stream-side trees have began to use less water for metabolic processes as they go into their season of dormancy.  Once the leaves have fallen, transpiration (leaf respiration) becomes just about nonexistent, leaving more surface water in the streams.  No rain is required to bring the stream level up a bit,  just the advance of autumn!

The deciduous trees in the Big Santa Anita Canyon are primarily Big Leaf Canyon Maples and White Alders, which can be seen all along the streams, gracing the canyon with their intermingling shades of green and coolness.  By late November, early December, most of the leaves have fallen.  The dark to light gray maple trunks still gently reach out and up with their bare limbs, surrounded by open light, while the alders’ straight and narrow trunks reach way up for what little light they’ll receive during these shortening days of early winter.  In fact, late in the day as you’re hiking along streams, the light colored alder trunks seem to linger the longest before finally fading into the darkening background of the canyon bottom.

Soon the much awaited rains and snows will make their arrival, fixing all the fallen leaves onto the damp ground in an earthy mosaic.  The scent of decomposing organics making new soil will be sweet and clean, somehow waking and energizing  something  deep in all of us.  Just maybe Mt. Wilson isn’t so far to go after all …

Big Santa Anita Canyon Crank Telephone System

Posted on August 16, 2013 – Written by Chris Kasten

The Big Santa Anita Canyon crank telephone system is coming back to life!  While hiking or biking the Chantry Flats hiking trails, you’ll see the old wooden call boxes in various places such as Fern Lodge Junction, located near Sturtevant Falls.  There’s a working crank telephone in each of the nine boxes.  Earlier this year, I was invited by the Permittees Association to provide a survey of the existing phone system that had been in disrepair for several years. Following the survey, I estimated what it would cost to bring it back to full operation.

The line puller securely pulls the two ends of the phone line together before splicing.

The decision was made for me to give it a try. So, back in April, the rebuilding began by driving a single 8 foot long ground rod at call box #1 down at First Water, below Roberts’ Camp. Since then, each week I spend a day re-connecting broken stretches of phone line, reattaching insulators to tree trunks, re-establishing grounding and basically getting the line back up off the earth and plants. Everything goes back to nature, especially six miles of wire under a forest canopy.

A description of the phone system, its’ origin and how it works can be found on a previous blog of mine, “What’s That Copper Wire? Chantry Flats’ Crank Telephone System” – dated Sept.14, 2012, page 2 on this website. Much of the work that’s been accomplished so far has been getting the phones working between the Pack Station at Chantry Flats down through First Water and then up canyon to Sturtevant’s Camp. Also, repairing the line up through the Winter Creek to its’ terminus just upstream from Hoegees’ Campground. A number of private cabins and public call boxes are now connected to the phone system as well.

Re splicing the phone line using a line puller.

These accompanying photos show in detail how the phone line is connected using sleeves and a crimper, as well as how to hold two pieces of wire together using a line puller. You’ll notice that there’s only one wire here. The return wire is the old earth herself. So, each phone location must be grounded for the circuit to be complete.

Crimping a splicing sleeve.

The way to get up to the wire is to either make a cut where you can reach it from the ground, removing its’ tension and letting it lower down through the split ceramic insulators, or to climb up a tree or pole using an extension ladder. I often carry an extension ladder when out working on the line. On one level it’s a bit cumbersome, yet it’s easier on the tree than using climbing spikes. Also, I make a point to remove wire that’s been wrapped around tree trunks for attaching insulators, thus liberating them from this stranglehold. Small eyebolts are used instead of wire, allowing the tree to grow as she will.

Next time you’re out and about in either the Winter Creek or the Big Santa Anita Canyon, see if you can find the blue-green copper wire running from tree to tree. If you should encounter an emergency, i.e. medical, fire or someone’s lost, use one of the nine call boxes located along the trails. The directions on how to use these crank telephones can be found on the inside of each call box. You never know who you might just be helping.