Chantry Flats Trails Lead to Sacred Places – Be Gentle On The Land…

Posted on August 10, 2012 – Written by Chris Kasten

Chances are that if you’re braving the parking up at Chantry or anywhere along the road, you’re hoping the trail that you pick will lead you to unblemished natural beauty.   Perhaps you’re even looking for some much needed solitude from the busyness that engulfs most of our lives.  The choice of natural environments that can be found on the Upper Winter Creek, Gabrielino, First Water, Upper Falls or Mt. Zion trails are close at hand.   One minute you can be in oak woodland, then out in the chaparral and only moments later be resting along a white alder tree in the riparian environment along the stream.  It seems that ever since the Station Fire of 2009, hundreds of hikers and mountain bikers who formerly spent their outdoor time in places like the Arroyo Seco, Big Tujunga, Mt. Gleason, the West Fork of the San Gabriel River or Charlton Flats to name a few – have now discovered the enchanting beauty of the Big Santa Anita Canyon.

Another source of the population increase in and around Chantry Flats is the internet.  Scores of people have discovered the YouTube video postings of people cliff jumping at Hermit Falls and on social media sites such as FaceBook and Twitter.  This, of course, does not even include some of the rating sites such as Yelp!

Mariposa Lillies.

Plainly put, the Big Santa Anita and Winter Creek canyons are beginning to show the scars of all the different types of visitors.  Just visit Hermit Falls and you’ll see a beautiful set of  plunge pools set in polished granite.  Mixed in with this scene are piles of garbage strewn down hillsides.  Graffiti is <marring the once pristine granite surfaces of boulders and cliff faces.  Trees are carved into as well.

Just last week I was down at Hermit Falls and it seemed to me that the human impact had actually gotten worse than the previous month of July.  The garbage that’s left behind consists primarily of plastic water bottles (the new litter of our time), cigarette packs, empty cans of cheap, mass-produced beer, various items of clothing covered with shit, toilet paper, human shit… and I’m saving the best for last.  Disposable baby diapers with a gift wrapped inside….  It is beyond appalling what people will leave behind.

If you happen to be on your way to Sturtevant Falls, don’t be surprised by the recent rash of colorful dog poop bags left along side the trail.  Of course, the owners of the dogs were halfway there in doing the right thing…  Yet, they didn’t want to carry their dog’s poop to the next trash can – so they left behind the little gift for someone else to deal with.  What are they thinking?  Yes, I get it, there’s the “poop police” waiting just around the corner to deal with the transport issue.  Yeah, that’s it!  On hot days when the sun is hitting these bags, their contents begin to cook and the resultant fumes inflate these bags the way a hot air balloon would fill up.  Lovely.

Indian paintbrush.

Last but not least, let’s not forget the garbage that some campers have left behind at Hoegees and Spruce Grove.  If the transgressor is really shy, he or she will just wait til no one is watching and throw their garbage into one of the pit toilets.   Last week I found four 13 gallon size bags of garbage stacked alongside one of the outhouses at Hoegees Campground.  Again, the attitude seems to be that someone else will deal with my mess.  I find this so sad that these types of habits are continuing to spoil our sacred spaces.

So, to put all this into perspective, it’s essential to believe -and- know that the vast majority of people who love our mountains are not part of this irresponsible and disconnected percentage doing the damage.  People are out in the canyon much of the time picking up someone else’s trash or doing their best to eradicate graffiti.  There is so much more care than there is harm.  The glass really is half full !   The earth’s soul is our soul.  When we’re gentle on the land, we’re nurturing our own soul.  Really.

Today, may I remind myself, that there’s the possibility our urban culture will continue to become more caring of the land.  That the health of the land is an indicator of the health within ourselves, or lack of it…    That I continue to grow and model myself as a steward of these sacred places.  That I gently encourage others to love this land.  That you and I heal as these canyons return to health.  Amen.

Mule Deer on Chantry Road

Posted on August 2, 2012 – Written by Chris Kasten

The accompanying photo was snapped from our car at the second hairpin turn up from the beginning of the Chantry Road.  These are mule deer, named for their unusually large ears.  Mule deer are often quite prevalent along the lower stretches of the road and can also be a routine challenge for homeowners’ plantings in the foothill areas of the San Gabriel mountains.  Mule deer can often be seen browsing on the deliciously, delicate flowers and tender grasses in the landscaped yards of homes in the Highland Oaks area of Arcadia and, of course,  Sierra Madre.

A doe and two fawns in Lannon Canyon on the Chantry Road.

This doe and her young occasionally travel up and down the actual drive lanes of this narrow, windy road.  So, take your time driving up to the trailhead and keep an eye out for deer darting out in front of your car, especially during the early morning and evening hours.

California Black Bears Coming Further Downslope For Water, Big Santa Anita Canyon is Getting Dry

Posted on August 1, 2012 – Written by Chris Kasten

The San Gabriel mountains provide habitat for black bears (Ursus americanus californiensis) throughout the year.  The accompanying photo was taken through the screen door of a cabin at Fern Lodge just before dark.  These elusive animals are seldom seen along the trails that radiate out from Chantry Flats.  As a rule, bears will avoid contact with humans if given the chance.  However, in the aftermath of a light winter, streams in many of the smaller side canyons are now drying up.  This causes much wildlife, including bears, to drop down to lower elevations in search of water.  The Big Santa Anita and Winter Creek flow throughout the driest months (September-October-November), becoming the primary source of drinking water for all creatures.

A resident black bear makes his / her way down the slope directly behind cabin #63 in the Fern Lodge area.

Bears are omnivorous, seeking both plants, insects (grubs and ants) and occasionally small game for food.  Right now, their scat can be seen alongside the hiking trails.  One of the black bear’s mainstays is manzanita berries, which can be seen abundantly throughout their scat.

Black bears although shy, are very powerful.  They are tree climbers and can quickly scale the steepest hillsides if necessary.   On the descent, they’re a bit slower and clumsy.  As for shelter, bears den in naturally occurring voids of rock and soil.   Winter conditions in the San Gabriel mountains are quite mild in contrast to other North American mountain ranges, so deep hibernation is not a part of the local black bear’s lifecycle as it might be further north.  Therefore, it’s possible to see a bear any month of the year!

An adult grizzly bear far, far away from Big Santa Anita Canyon. The San Gabriel mountains had a grizzly population up until the last one was shot in Little Tujunga Canyon in 1919.

There was a time once when another species of bear roamed the San Gabriels.  This was the Grizzly, (Ursus arctos horribilis) now extinct throughout California.  Grizzly bears were known to many backcountry travelers of the 19th century as X bears, due to the hourglass shape of lighter colored fur on their backs.  When the grizzly bear was aggravated, the light colored fur would stand straight up, sort of the way that dogs do when upset.  You can read more about this time of grizzly bears roaming the San Gabriels in John W. Robinson’s “The San Gabriels, Southern California Mountain Country.”

If you are fortunate enough to see a bear in the Big Santa Anita Canyon or Winter Creek, keep your distance and calmness.  Should one approach you, stand tall and hold your ground.  Clap your hands together and yell as loud as you can to scare it off.  Chances are he or she just didn’t see you until your closing distance narrowed way down.  Although a bear’s eyesight is not terribly keen, its’ sense of smell is acute.  While camping up at Spruce Grove or Hoegees campgrounds, hang your food well out on a tree limb at night.   Generally, try to keep your food bag at least 8′ up from the ground and 8′ out from the main trunk of the tree.  A bear-proof food storage canister is really the best way to go and a lot easier than finding the perfect tree.    Keep your campsite clean and wash your dishes well.  No food should ever be stored inside your tent!  Remember, bears are afraid of humans, yet will do just about ANYTHING for food.

Brown Trout in Big Santa Anita Creek

Posted on July 20, 2012 – Written by Chris Kasten

Here’s an image of a brown trout in Big Santa Anita Creek.  While hiking along the Big Santa Anita Creek or Winter Creek, occasionally you might happen upon a fly fisherman working one of the pools that dot our beautifully shady canyon.  This picture was taken just last Tuesday at the base of a check dam between Roberts’ Camp and Fern Lodge Junction.  After being caught, this Brown trout was safely released back to its’ pool without any harm to it at all.  Brown trout, Salmo trutta, are not native to the Big Santa Anita Canyon.  It’s close cousin, the German Brown, can be found in the east and midwest sections of the United States.  This species of trout tolerates water temps between 60-65 degrees, so is especially well suited for our canyon’s stream.  Brown trout were introduced to the canyon years ago and continue to still survive the endless cycles of drought, interspersed by occasional El Nino induced deluges during winter months.

Brown Trout in Big Santa Anita Creek

From the Chantry Flats’ Gabrielino trailhead, just head down the paved fire road to Roberts’ Camp or take the First Water trail to down to the stream midway between Roberts’ Camp and Hermit Falls.  Following any of the stream side trails, watch for Brown trout in some of the deeper, protected pools that offer some form of overhanging protection for fish.  Brush growing up to and over a pool’s surface, submerged logs and dark, rocky underwater hiding places are types of habitat that these fish can be found.

As Summer Heats Ramps Up At Chantry Flats – Watch For Reptiles

Posted on July 11, 2012 – Written by Chris Kasten
A western fence lizard near Slider Rock, Big Santa Anita Canyon.
A young rattlesnake between the boulders. East Fork of Big Santa Anita Canyon.

It’s July and summer temps continue to ramp up into the triple digits in the San Gabriel Valley.    What a great time to head up into the cooling depths of the Big Santa Anita Canyon!  This time of year, it’s often possible to experience temperatures reaching up into the 90′s, especially where you park your car up at Chantry Flats.  Out in the open sun it can feel more like a 100 degrees, especially when you’re out hiking up or down the paved fire road between Chantry Flats and Roberts’ Camp.  The summer sun not only bears down on you from above, but heat then is re-radiated back up off the pavements and light colored expanses of rock along the mountainside.  This is a scene that requires thinking ahead for your next trip out of Chantry Flats.  Bring plenty of water for each person.  Two liters per person is really not too much when it’s hot.  Wear a good sun hat and consider the benefits of applying sunscreen as well.

During the height of the summer sun, the warmest hours are quite often between 12:00 noon and 3:00 p.m.  While the sun’s up high, we seek the welcome of shade and so do the reptiles.  Of the myriad forms of wildlife to be found in the Big Santa Anita Canyon, it’s the reptiles who are in their season between March and November, with the high point of sightings taking place in late June through August.

Because reptiles cannot regulate their body heat, such as humans can, snakes and lizards are utterly dependent on the temperature of the air.  To regulate their internal body temps, snakes and lizards must seek shade during the middle of the day when the sun’s bearing directly down into the canyon.  As the sun’s angle shifts later on in the day, these animals will venture back out from their hiding places.  During summer evenings, it’s not uncommon to see the occasional snake out on a road surface, which still emits stored heat from the baking day.  When traveling back down the Chantry Road on a summer evening, try to slow down so as to avoid running over these defenseless animals.  They’re just trying to seek a little warmth against the cooling night.  As the morning sun begins to make its’ presence, watch for snakes and lizards sunning themselves out in the open as they attempt to warm back up from the evening’s coolness.  This pattern of seeking, avoiding and then seeking heat is an endless pattern in the life of any reptile.

In Big Santa Anita Canyon, most of the species of snakes are non venomous.  Our only venomous snake is the Southern Pacific Diamondback.  Probably one of the most misunderstood creatures of all times, rattlesnakes are by their very nature shy and secretive, avoiding human contact if at all possible.  Rattlesnakes should not be approached or provoked.  Their rattling and coiled stance is a defensive behavior.  If given the chance, any rattlesnake will eventually retreat and seek to create as much distance between itself and humans as possible!   All lizards in the Big Santa Anita are non venomous.

As for snakes and lizards in our canyon, there’s quite a variety.   For more images of these amazing animals, go to http://herp-pix.org/As you hike on any of the trails out of Chantry Flats, it’s quite likely you’ll see lizards of all sizes and coloring, flitting alongside rock faces and down sandy stretches of trail.  Snakes often tend to be a bit more elusive, yet if you’re quiet and keep a constant watch into the shady hollows under brush, trees and rocks, you might just get to see one.   Like all creatures, reptiles have their part to do in the natural landscape.  These creatures feed mainly on insects, small amphibians, rodents and occasionally on one another.  The hiking trails out of Chantry Flats are a fantastic place to see these wonderful creatures.

Gabrielino Trailhead at Chantry Flats is a Portal to Yuccas in Bloom

Posted on June 27, 2012 – Written by Chris Kasten
An elegant yucca flower as found along the Gabrielino Trail near Tin Can Point.

It’s late June and a number of  yuccas along the trail are in beautiful bloom.  These photos were taken along the Gabrielino National Riding and Hiking Trail which originates at Chantry Flats in the Big Santa Anita Canyon of the Angeles National Forest.  The specific location of the yucca photograph is a place called Tin Can Point, a switchback located just upslope from Fern Lodge Junction which is about a mile and a half in from Chantry Flats.  From Tin Can Point, one can see the inverted triangular view of the San Gabriel Valley, bounded left and right  by the lower Big Santa Anita’s steep slopes.

Blossoms on Stalk

Yuccas as we know them in the San Gabriel mountains and most of southern California are known botanically as yucca whipplei.  Two common names that many hikers know this plant by are Spanish Bayonet or Our Lord’s Candle.  Regardless of your preference, the bloom of this sharp-spined plant is enough to cause you to stop and ponder its’ beauty.  The yucca blooms but once in its’ lifetime.  After the flowers have gone to seed, the base spines which are in a rosette pattern will wither and die.  This beautiful floral stalk is the culmination of a life’s work.

A blossoming yucca stalk in full glory. The summit in the background is White Horse Mountain. Photo taken at Tin Can Point on the Gabrielino Trail, Big Santa Anita Canyon.

Mt. Wilson Trails Hike from Chantry Flats – Details of Rim Trail Section

Posted on June 16, 2012 – Written by Chris Kasten
Trailhead for Rim Trail atop Mt. Wilson.
The delicate beauty of Gilia graces a section of the Rim Trail below Mt. Wilson.

Last week I hiked the upper section of the Rim Trail, just below the summit of Mt. Wilson.  As for its’ connection to other Chantry Flats trails, the solitude and peace that you will experience here is unforgettable.The day was warm and bright, as it should be at this elevation of 5,700′ in the month of June.  I expected the deer flies and black flies to be swarming, as they were the previous weekend, yet to my surprise there were hardly any!

A doe finds peaceful rest in the shade near Mt. Wilson’s summit. Photo taken from Rim Trail.

The Rim Trail is just over 3 1/2 miles in length and connects the summit of Mt. Wilson with Newcomb Pass to the east.  With Newcomb Pass being 4,115′ in elevation, the elevation difference between the two points is about 1,600′.  The grade is fairly mild and the route follows forested north facing slopes just below the ridge that separates the upper Big Santa Anita Canyon from the West Fork of the San Gabriel River.  While on the Rim Trail, you’ll pass through miles of miles of shady oak forests intermixed with ferns and Big Cone Spruce.  Near the summit, the trail takes on an almost “Sierra-like” appearance with black (mica) and white (quartz) speckled granite outcroppings, views toward the San Gabriel mountain high country peaks and the occasional stately sugar pines with their bunches of narrow and sap dripping cones.   Feel the cooling, dry breezes that brush over the ridge top.

Gray tree squirrel nibbling on a pine cone.

Spring, summer and fall are the times to make the Rim Trail a part of your hike.  In the winter, lingering ice patches cling to the precipitous north facing slopes above steep chutes that drop down into the West Fork.  The chance for an accident, especially toward the summit is possible without the proper footwear and ice axe.   There have been fatalities as well, so reconsider taking this trail between December and March, unless you’re well-prepared.  Every location in the Angeles National Forest has its’ shadow side,  so plan accordingly.

If you’re looking for relative solitude, great views, or a chance at spotting wildlife; then this trail’s for you.

Humboldt Tiger Lilies are in Full Bloom Along Chantry Flats’ Stream Side Trails

Posted on June 6, 2012 – Written by Chris Kasten

Hiking on the trails that originate out of the Chantry Flats trailhead, you are bound to see the magnificent Humboldt Tiger Lilly (Lilium humboldtii) in all its’ splendor .     This bloom was photographed on the Lower Winter Creek trail this last Saturday.  This tiger lilly  can be found growing along moist canyon stream beds throughout the front country of the Angeles National Forest.     Late May through the month of June tends to be the time for these beautiful flowers to make their annual appearance.  This native can be enjoyed on your next hike at Chantry Flats, whether it be the Big Santa Anita Canyon or in this case, the Winter Creek.

Humboldt Tiger Lillies, Lower Winter Creek Trail. Winter Creek, Big Santa Anita Canyon.

Sturtevant Trail of Big Santa Anita Canyon – A Steep Path Through Both Rugged and Gentle Beauty

Posted on May 26, 2012 – Written by Chris Kasten

I recently descended the Sturtevant Trail off the east side of Mt. Wilson, one of steepest of the Santa Anita Canyon trails.  This was the second reconnaissance trip of trails on and around Mt. Wilson’s summit for the creation of the companion map to Big Santa Anita Canyon Trails Map.  The Sturtevant Trail was the original way into Sturtevant’s Camp.  Wilbur Sturtevant built the trail into his camp in the early 1890′s.  Sturtevant Camp’s first season of hosting guests was way back in 1893.

Sturtevant’s Camp was to be the first of five resorts to be built in the Big Santa Anita Canyon and the Winter Creek.  To this day, the camp continues to host groups, making it the longest lasting trail camp from the resort days during the Great Hiking Era.

The Sturtevant Trail is identified in the Angeles National Forest’s trail catalogue as 11W16.  It is approximately 2.8 miles in length and has a total elevation gain or loss of 2,500 feet between Sturtevant Camp and Mt. Wilson.  Most of the slope that the trail follows is north and northeast facing, thus is for the most part shaded.  Be ready for two great attributes to be found along this trail.  First, while still above the Halfway Rest, enjoy views out toward the High Country of the San Gabriel mountains.  You’ll see Mt. Waterman, Twin Peaks, Throop Peak, Mt. Islip and even Old Baldy (Mt. San Antonio).  In the areas just south of Mt. Waterman and Twin Peaks, you’ll see the San Gabriel Wilderness drainage of Devil’s Canyon.  All of this is visible just above the north rim of the Big Santa Anita Canyon.  The second, and much closer treat, is the realization that you’re hiking amidst and under the canopies of very large Big Cone Spruce.  The area in and around the Halfway Rest is a particularly beautiful example of a mature forest of big cone spruce, canyon live oak and big leaf canyon maple.  There’s a park like expansiveness to be found on this slope in the extreme upper end of Big Santa Anita Canyon.

Thistle in full bloom along the Sturtevant Trail. Photo taken not too far up canyon from Sturtevant Camp.

The day I did my round trip down and back on the Sturtevant Trail, I stopped for lunch along a wild and untouched section of the stream bed just up from Sturtevant Camp.  I found this thistle just above the dry sandy and bouldery bed.

A Rare Find – Benchmark Found near Chantry Flat

Posted on May 10, 2012 – Written by Chris Kasten

Here’s the benchmark for the corner section that appears just within feet of the old Monrovia Peak Trail. This corner section benchmark (monument) is attached to the end of a pipe.  Richard Loe and I found this 1927 benchmark entirely by accident, when sunlight happened to be shining on it at just the right moment!

Here’s an old topographic map of the Big Santa Anita Canyon showing lots and lots of cabins that were still here before the great flood of 1938 and the Monrovia Peak Fire of 1953. Where those lines cross, to the upper right of my thumb, is the range and township monument (benchmark) that Richard and I found. Look how close it is to the old Monrovia Peak Trail heading up the East Fork tributary canyon.

A rare find – 1927 benchmark found near Chantry Flat.  Check out what was found while traveling up the old East Fork Trail, which once ran from Fern Lodge in the Big Santa Anita Canyon to Spring Camp near Monrovia Peak.   This benchmark is dated 1927.  While x-country hiking with Richard Loe, we found this oxidized brass range and township marker located just below the old East Fork trail about 80-100′ up from the stream bed.    If you look closely, it’s possible to see that it was installed by the U.S. General Land Office surveyors.  See the location of this marker on the old topographic map, lower image.  If the light cast on the mountainside hadn’t been just right…. and if I hadn’t looked in just the exact location at that moment, it would have been quite likely we would have just hiked right on by!  It’s amazing to me that rockslides and  the movement of soils over the last 85 years hadn’t just buried this cartographer’s treasure from the past.  Upon closer inspection, it was discovered that the benchmark “cap” was affixed to a galvanized steel pipe driven into the mountainside.  There are undoubtedly other markers to be found by those hiking cross-country in the front-country canyons of the San Gabriel mountains.