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 CanyonCartography.com 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.

Warmer Days Bring Out The Creatures Here In the Big Santa Anita Canyon

Posted on May 24, 2013 – Written by Chris Kasten
This juvenile rattlesnake has just settled into digesting her meal. Notice how the camouflage blends with the fallen oak leaves.
This western fence lizard suns himself on a warm rock near Slider Rock, Big Santa Anita Canyon
A young gopher snake exploring on freshly raked sand at cabin #63, Fern Lodge in Big Santa Anita Canyon.

All of the front country of the San Gabriels are warming up, especially here along the Chantry Flats Trails.    Days are lengthening, grasses are drying out, stream flows are lessening and the lizards and snakes are on the rise!  There’s so much to see.  And to smell…. The fragrance of last year’s decaying leaves in the loamy stream bed’s sands is at times pungent  or mildly in the back ground of your senses.  This “signature” scent is throughout all the deep, steep canyons of our range.   Anywhere you’re in the Angeles National Forest, perhaps on a waterfall hike, organic reminders of our earthy platform that all life springs from.   White alders are fully leafed out, their canopies swaying lazily back and forth in the breezes of warmer days.  Bright greens of leaves and blue sky mingle together above us as the old earth tips more and more northward with the promise of longer days.

At our feet, creatures are wide awake and stirring about.  The lack of winter rains has in some way been a catalyst for our Spring season changing to Summer in a few short weeks.  Take time to look down at this miracle all around our feet.  Snakes and lizards make good use of camouflage to blend in with their native surroundings, so take your time and be still. The top image of the rattlesnake was taken after I almost stepped right on it by accident while alongside a cabin just below Sturtevant Falls.  You can see how well it blends in with the fallen oak leaves.  The lizard image was taken on the side of a cabin wall near the East Fork of Big Santa Anita Canyon.
These insect eaters are agile climbers on the textured rock surfaces.  The bottom image is of a mature gopher snake that has just recently shed its’ skin.  These non-venemous snakes are often incorrectly identified as rattlesnakes.  Gopher snakes constrict their prey, which consists primarily of mice and other small rodents.  While out hiking, stop once in awhile to look and listen to all the small miracles happening all around you.  You’ll be glad you did.

Relocating Rattlesnakes in Big Santa Anita Canyon

Posted on April 25, 2013 – Written by Chris Kasten

Two Southern Pacific diamondback rattlesnakes await relocation in a Rubbermaid 20 gal. size barrel, just for this purpose.

Always use care when relocating rattlesnakes in Big Santa Anita Canyon.  Everything’s blooming right now in the front country of the Angeles National Forest.   Hikers make their way up the Gabrielino Trail to the cool, moist beauty of Sturtevant Falls.  Colors are vibrant, sweet floral scents waft in the canyon breezes and the streams are as full as they’ll be until next winter’s rains.  This last weekend my wife and I were at our little cabin in the Big Santa Anita with all the windows open and the sound of bird song carrying throughout.  While raking, Joanie noticed the tail of a mature rattlesnake sliding underneath the low shutter of an enclosure attached to our toolshed.  I grabbed my snake stick (garden hoe minus the blade) and relocation barrel (20 gal. Rubbermaid trash can) for the task at hand.

Very carefully, I lifted the shutter to find a very healthy and cautious rattler looking back at me from the shadows.  Its’ neck and head were lifted in the manner of a cobra.  While prodding the snake with the stick, I mentioned to Joanie the possibility of two being present.  Up at Sturtevant Camp, we had once caught two snakes within a short distance of one another on a warm summer day.  One large female was in my wife’s flower garden and the other near the Ranger Cabin.

Sure enough, there was another snake!  This rattler was more slender and challenging to capture.  The larger one was easy to catch.  You just have to get her to drape across the metal hook at the end of the wooden handle.  Once that’s accomplished, just lift the serpent up and over the wall of the barrel, making sure to gently set down.  Next, we added the smaller partner.  The two immediately began to snap at one another!  Very unlike the behavior of the earlier Sturtevant pairing.    The larger, darker and stouter partner would occasionally utter a low and irritated “hiss……”  at the other.  Suddenly their bodies would slap up hard against each other.  Certainly, it was time to release them to the unconfined wilds of the Big Santa Anita Canyon’s East Fork, away from all human habitat.

The snakes continued to rattle inside the barrel which was held snugly up to my back as we hiked up the quiet side canyon.  The rattling sounds a bit like a snare drum that never stops.  When we reached the spot of disembarking, it was just a matter of carefully removing the lid and turning the barrel on its’ side as  sliding snakes made their way down the wall to the earth.  Both snakes were worn out and just lay side by side very peacefully.  We watched down as warm spring light spilled down on both these fascinating and terribly misunderstood creatures.  The larger snake had a crimson dot, perhaps from a nip, on her snout.

So, keep your eyes and ears open for rattlesnakes, especially as the temps rise and the days lengthen.  Rattlesnakes, like all snakes, are solitary and reclusive creatures.  If you should happen upon one while out on a hike, just give it distance and a way out.  Let it live in peaceful solitude.  They belong, too, in this vast and varied universe of life.

An Industrious Little Dark-Eyed Junco… Spring Nest Building is Happening in the Big Santa Anita Canyon

Posted on April 17, 2013 – Written by Chris Kasten
A dark-eyed junco gathering nesting materials. Fern Lodge, Big Santa Anita Canyon.

I took this picture of a Dark-eyed Junco a few days ago in the Fern Lodge area.  Just a half mile downstream from Sturtevant Falls, this little female was collecting dried grasses for her nest.  The Big Santa Anita and Winter Creek canyons are filled with bird song from many species of birds.  The habitat where this picture was taken is riparian/woodland, a land of rushing streams, boulders and trees. Perfect for supporting lots of life!

Big Leaf Canyon Maples & Baby Blue Eyes Abound on the Chantry Flats Trails

Posted on March 22, 2013 – Written by Chris Kasten

While out hiking this week, check out the newly opening leaves and flowers of the maples along side the stream side  trails that radiate out of Chantry Flats.  If you’re contemplating hiking up to one of L.A. County’s waterfalls, Sturtevant Falls is at its’ peak flow as of this writing.  A new season’s canopy of North America’s largest maple leaves are on their way.  In the open spaces of gentle sunlight and shade, look for freshly blossoming baby blue eyes.   These delicate, low flowers seem to signify the Easter season in the front country of the San Gabriel mountains.

New life emerges on this Big Leaf Canyon maple. Photo taken just upstream from Sturtevant Falls.

Maples (Acer macrophyllum), in particular, grace both the Winter Creek and Big Santa Anita Canyons.

The spans of their canopies can be vast, supported by large arching limbs.  Limbs covered with emerald green mosses that come alive after rain storms.  Our maples have at times been referred to as “water maples,”  especially back during the Great Hiking Era.  Charles Francis Saunders, in his classic “The Southern Sierra,”  written back in the 1920′s describes these elegant trees in this manner.  The times change, yet the plants and their capacity to evoke mood in us does not.  Maples and alders, together, create a mixed green canopy to shelter the canyon bottoms from the severe sunny heat of summer days.  The light under maples can take on a thick, translucent green / gold magic on late summer afternoons.   In the fall, their yellow and gold leaves seem to radiate their own light against the grays and dark greens of deep canyons.   In the summer time, when their sap runs, look for the dark and moist liquid seeping through openings in the bark and depositing in pockets at the base of some of the more mature trees.  Wikipedia makes mention that maple syrup can be created by our species here in the San Gabriel mountains.  Its’, flavor differing a bit from the traditional maple species of the northeastern U.S.  I have known no one who has actually cooked down the sap from these lovely trees and made it into syrup.  It takes approximately 35 gallons of sap to make one gallon of finished product!   When Joanie & I used to run Sturtevant’s Camp, we’d notice that the mules would nibble at the bark of the maples in the corral area while waiting for their return run back to Chantry Flats.   The fallen leaves were also a delicacy to our long-eared friends.

Baby Blue Eyes along the Gabrielino Trail.

Baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii)  are beginning to poke their little heads up through glades of miners’ lettuce and chick weed.   They’re visible along many places on the trail between Chantry Flats and Sturtevant’s Camp.  Of course, if you go up to Newcomb Pass, you’ll see them along the slopes taking in the mild spring sunshine.  They add the most beautiful dots of blue amongst the backgrounds of entangled greenery.  These delicate little flowers will blossom up through May and can sometimes be seen as late as June in protected, semi-shade along canyon bottoms.

Hiking the Abandoned Burma Road of Chantry Flats

Posted on March 9, 2013 – Written by Chris Kasten

This is a short story about hiking the abandoned Burma Road of Chantry Flats.  You can see the route of this old road on the Chantry Flat – Mt. Wilson Trails Map, available on this website,  or at the Adams Pack Station General Store next to the Chantry Picnic Area. This old road was once the carved out thoroughfare of cement mixers, bulldozers, skip loaders, cranes and more during the construction era of the check dams upstream from Sturtevant Falls.  Today it rests quietly , slowly being reclaimed by the mountains.

It was warm and mild out on the front porch of the cabin.  A gentle breeze woke up the chimes hanging from the eve.  The ringing was calm and faint.  I set down my book, relaxed and yawning in the bright February sunshine.  What to do?  Maybe take a nap if I didn’t start moving or perhaps, hike up to the prominent switchback of the long-abandoned Burma Road.  Only a mile and a half in from Chantry Flats, one can suddenly transport one’s self into a chaparral-clad wilderness of upward climbing.

So, I’m doing this crawl up a gully between two of our neighbors’ cabins.  At first, like everything we don’t know the whole story of, it’s really easy.  Lush, green grasses blow lazily about my boots as I plod upward.  Shaded by blossoming bay trees, the air is sweetened by thousands of the tiny yellow flowers.  Large and stately canyon live oaks begin to make their presence as I climb further and further from the Big Santa Anita Creek.  The slope’s steepness increases and I’m constantly stopping and kicking into the moist, sandy slope.   The one thing that I packed, the one thing that I’d really need for this trip was a pair of smallish pruners, or loppers, for cutting through brush.  These became indispensable as my route began to be impinged upon by dense, dry tangles of brush.  Several times, even the little folding pack saw came out for branches that were over a couple of inches in diameter.  So, my pattern was often moving up the mountain gully a few paces, clipping and sawing, then pushing through the tiny opening to step up a few more paces……  I was soon high enough to see Mt. Harvard out across the Winter Creek Canyon.  Chamise and buckbrush began to make their presence.  This was the really hard going.  Soon I was wading hip deep in black sage, which left its’ signature scent in all my clothing.  Clutching at little twiggy limbs, I pulled myself up the final pitch to the old Burma Road and a fragrant, blossoming patch of rosemary.

Hoary Leaf Ceanothus

This same spot was visited by Richard Loe and I last spring.  However, we had walked and climbed up the decaying switchbacks of the old road near Sturtevant Falls.  That day we ran into three stout, black rattlesnakes gliding through piles of white rocks – all within a couple of minutes!  This time, I was a good month earlier in the season, so rattlesnakes were the last thing on my mind.  From the end of this switchback, I could make out the Pacific Ocean, while Catalina Island appeared to float on the hazy scene.  After drinking a little water and shaking the chaparral fragments out of my clothes, the thought of how to return slowly made its’ way in.  It was a sparkling, dazzling clear day.  All courtesy of the mild Santa Ana winds.  The startling clarity of vistas and the mild temps make Southern California’s mountains a paradise.  I just wanted to stay out in it and make the day last.  One thing for sure, the route back down the gully was doable, yet not what I really wanted to do.  I looked across and down to Sturtevant Falls emerging out a gash in the white cliffs from my unique vantage point.   It was decided,  continue up the abandoned Burma to the where it enters the North Fork and then back down to the Upper Falls Trail.  This would be a great way to make a loop out of my trip.

Close-up of blossoms, Hoary Leaf Ceanothus

There’s brush all over the Burma Road.  In case you’re wondering what this road was all about,  you can read a blog I wrote earlier on about the building of the check dams.  Entitled, “How Did All These Dams Get Here?”   The abandoned Burma Road shows up on the Big Santa Anita Canyon Trails Map.  On I hiked, weaving through sumac, sage, yuccas, non-native pines and eucalyptus (planted by the Forest Service), manzanita and more.  At one point I got mixed up and wandered off on some kind of spur road that must have dead ended.  However, before that was figured out, the sumac was chest high and the beating through the brush had become relentless.  There was a beautiful scene that just had to be photographed.  It was a hoary leaf ceanothus (Ceanothus crassifolius) also more commonly referred to as buckbrush or wild lilac.  One of the great things about the hoary leaf variety is that there are no thorns to be reckoned with!  This shrub blooms usually from January through April and emits a sweet, sugary fragrance from its’ myriad tiny flowers along the branchlets.  Right now, you can see lots of this beautiful plant blossoming on the slopes across the canyon from Chantry Flats.  Not long after this, I was once, again, wading through the brush when I heard a dull, flat hiss coming from the ground near my left boot.  It couldn’t be….  I looked down and saw an irregular opening in a boulder lodged in the ground.  Perhaps a brother or sister of the Crotalus genus had been startled by my careless wandering…  Time to back straight out and look for where the road really ran.  It had been since 1977 or 78 when Howard Casebolt and I followed this same section of the road, so now it all seemed so new and fresh!  Fortunately, I found where the road made a sharp hairpin and was soon on the right track.  There were road cuts that were so deep (25-30 feet high) and narrow that the road was cool and damp.  Gooseberry bushes even liked these spots.  Dark green, plump grasses lay down in these dark, secret places.  Eventually, I walked and scrambled along the road’s remains in the area I call the “Great White Scar,” visible not only from Chantry Flats, but much of the San Gabriel Valley below when you look up the mouth of the Big Santa Anita.  Although the sun was nearly over the ridge by now, heat radiated out from the plane surfaces of jagged, white rocks.  Thoughts of large, anxiety-ridden serpents occasionally filled my mind as I continued to hop from rock to rock and beating back more brush.  Eventually I made my way to the large pine flat just above the North Fork confluence near cabin #94.  Whew!  The one thing I didn’t bring and began to wish I had, was a flashlight.  Soon I was scrambling down the side canyon to the Upper Falls Trail in the gray and failing light in the canyon bottom.  Arriving at the cabin, I chuckled to myself just how pivotal one’s decision to take a nap or go for a “little” hike can be.

American Dippers in the Big Santa Anita Canyon – Something to Watch for on Your Next Southern California Waterfall Hike

Posted on February 8, 2013 – Written by Chris Kasten

As you wander along the banks of the Big Santa Anita or perhaps its’ tributary canyon the Winter Creek, watch for the water-loving dippers.  Known as American Dippers or Water Ouzels (Cinclus mexicanus), these small birds hop from rock to rock and true to their name, dip their heads and bodies down into the rushing stream in search of food.  The Dipper does this squatting dance, bobbing its’ body up and down, up and down, before flying off low over the water.  If you’re lucky enough to watch one swim, you’ll notice how similar these enchanting creatures are to ducks.  Sometimes they’ll thrust their head down into the current, other times they’ll dive down completely vanishing into pools and small rapids.

American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus)

Dippers have an extra eyelid to help with seeing underwater, much like having built-in goggles!  Their food, at least in the Big Santa Anita creek, consists of dragonfly nymphs and caddisfly larvae.  To help stay warm, these birds secrete oil, helping to keep their feathers and skin glossy and water repellant.Listen for their song as you hike along.  It sounds like a high pitched whistling or trill, repeated over and over.   Photos and drawn diagram courtesy of Bing Images.