Chantry Flats Crank Telephone System

Posted on September 14, 2012 – Written by Chris Kasten

Phone line and insulator detail of crank telephone system. This location is at the top of Sturtevant Falls on the Upper Falls Trail.

Have you ever wondered what that green wire is running from tree to tree along the trails at Chantry Flats?  That green wire is part of the Chantry Flats crank telephone system over six miles in length.  This remnant phone system goes back to a much earlier time in the Angeles National Forest’s history; a time when the Angeles Crest Highway had yet to be built and trail resorts were thriving during the “Great Hiking Era.”  It was a time when much of southern California was still agricultural and hikers often took the Pacific Electric red cars (trolleys) to trailheads before embarking upon the multitude of paths in the San Gabriel mountains.

The crank telephone system connected most of the old trail resorts, such as Hoegees, Sturtevant’s, Roberts’, Fern Lodge and First Water Camps in the Big Santa Anita Canyon.  Many of the private cabins were also connected to the phone system, not to mention Guard Stations manned by the U.S. Forest Service.  The phone line also ran into the “backcountry” to places like the West Fork of the San Gabriel River and Coldwater Canyon near Strawberry Peak.  It went to Mts. Wilson and Lowe, up and down the Arroyo Seco Canyon and other canyons too numerous to include here.  In short, the crank telephone system was a vibrant, reliable form of communication for a time gone by.

Split ceramic insulator carrying the 12 gauge phone line. Upper Falls Trail, Big Santa Anita Canyon.

Nowadays, in canyons other than the Big Santa Anita and Winter Creek,  you’d never know where to look for evidence of this historical technology in the Angeles’ early days.  If you’re hiking up the Sturtevant Trail toward Mt. Wilson, look for a number of remnant split ceramic insulators still dangling on rusted wire from the oak trees not far up canyon from Sturtevant’s Camp.  In some cases, you can see where the white, round insulators that used to be nailed directly into tree trunks are now being consumed by the still growing trees.  Just a nubbin of an insulator still protrudes from trunks of oak and spruce, sort of appearing the way a white spool of thread might appear if you looked  at it “on end.”  It’s center attachment nail long corroded and missing.

The phone line in the Big Santa Anita currently travels between the Adams Pack Station at Chantry Flats down to First Water and  then up stream to Sturtevant’s Camp four miles north and west of there.  Another section of line branches off from Roberts’ Camp, which is where the hikers’ footbridge is located.  From there, the line goes up the Winter Creek to a spot just up stream from Hoegees Campground.  The line travels from tree to tree, supported by ceramic insulators.  The line itself is 12 gauge and uninsulated, its’ core being made of steel for strength with a surrounding jacket of copper for conductivity.  Connections between sections of wire are made with “butt-in” style connectors made of brass which are crimped into place.  These connectors look like narrow little barrels that the line slides into before it’s crimped half way in.  The next section of line is slid into the other half of the barrel and crimped as well for an airtight and, hopefully corrosion-free seal.

Crank telephone and battery in call box #8, Upper Falls Trail, Big Santa Anita Canyon.

There are currently nine call boxes located alongside the trails with crank telephones and batteries in them.  These call boxes are for emergency use, such as the reporting of fires or medical emergencies.  The locations of these call boxes appear on the Big Santa Anita Canyon Trails Map by canyon   A fair number of the cabins that you see along the trail also have crank telephones as well.  You might be wondering just how one makes a call from one of these antique phones.  Since there’s no dial at any phone, what you do is send a pattern of “rings” from your location that will tell the recipient of your call if the message is for them or not.  For example, the Pack Station is “one ring”, Sturtevant Camp is “two rings” and any private cabin would be “three rings.”  This is known as a party line and was quite common in rural areas of the United States up until the 1950′s and early 60′s.  A ring is created when the crank handle located on the phone is turned rapidly as possible to generate voltage.  (the crank handle is connected to a 2, 3, 4 or 5 bar magneto)  So, say you’re calling a private cabin owner, you’d crank the handle vigorously several turns, pause…., then crank several turns, pause…, then several more turns.  Now, stop cranking and just listen.  Be patient.  Chill out and wait a good minute for your party to pick up on the other end.

Call box #8, Upper Falls Trail, Big Santa Anita Canyon.

On a crank telephone, your voice is carried by battery power.   There’s no need to keep cranking a phone when speaking – only to ring someone.  Each phone is protected by a carbon block lightning protector.  You’ll notice that the call boxes along the trail also have a 6 volt lantern battery attached to the phone.  Originally, the phones were intended to operate on 3 volts, not 6.  The batteries were cylindrical, dry cell 1 volt types in series.   It seems that for decades now, we’ve been using the lantern batteries without damage to the phones.   Also another detail in regard to this type of system is that there’s only one wire traveling from tree to tree.  All phone systems have a circuit that must be completed, thus the wire pair we’re all so used to seeing.  So, where’s the other half of the wire pair?  It’s the earth.  Each phone or call box must be grounded some how.  Sometimes there’s a ground rod driven into the earth for this purpose, other times there’s a bare wire going into the stream or a ground wire’s attached to a cold water pipe.  Good grounding’s important if you’re going to have a clear pathway for your phone to work and to be easily heard.

The call boxes that you see along the trails were built by the U.S. Forest Service back in the 1940′s, just after World War II.  Each call box not only had a phone, but a water pump with a suction strainer and fire hose.  There were also McClouds, shovels and other fire fighting tools.  Back in the 40′s, 50′s and 60′s, it was expected that members of the recreating public be willing and able to fight wildfire if the need arose.  The Forest Service also maintained the phones and phone line, climbing trees and restringing wire as necessary.  Unfortunately, with budget cutbacks constantly hacking away at the Angeles’ operating costs, phone repair fell by the wayside.

Operating instructions for the Chantry Flats crank telephone system. Call box #8.

Fortunately, the Big Santa Anita Canyon Permittees Association, comprised of concerned cabin owners, took over the maintenance of the crank telephone system.   This rural phone system is truly a last remnant of an earlier time in Southern California’s San Gabriel mountains.

Chantry Flats Night Hike – Scorpion Sighting

Posted on September 13, 2012 – Written by Chris Kasten

Just last Friday evening, my wife and I were hiking between Chantry Flats and Roberts’ Camp when we encountered a healthy-looking scorpion crossing the pavement in San Olene Canyon.  It had been a long time since last seeing one of these fascinating creatures.  Also, I had forgotten just how fast they can run!  Fortunately, he/she stopped just long enough for me to take this picture.

A nocturnal photo of a scorpion in San Olene Canyon near Chantry Flats.

As a kid, I remember seeing an occasional scorpion out on the Lower Winter Creek trail during warm summer evenings back in the 1970′s.   Back then, it was usually our custom to sleep out under the stars on a tarp in our sleeping  bags.  Although I never had a scorpion get into my sleeping bag, I did once have one get into my bed up at Colby Ranch in the middle of the Angeles National Forest.  It was 1981 and I had just been hired as one of the summer staff at Camp Colby.  I lived alone in an old house on a hill above the camp’s swimming pool.  The walls were of knotty pine and the view out the large living room windows looked out across both Coldwater and Upper Big Tujunga Canyons toward Mt. Gleason and Mt. Pacifico.  No one had lived in that old house in a long time.  One day we moved a refrigerator than had been sitting in another building for some time up into my place.  Now I was really living!  Keep in mind, I was 19 years old and feeling VERY independent that summer…

The next morning after the fridge had been delivered, I was laying in bed and had been awoken to the raspy calls of Stellar Jays making a racket on the eves above my bedroom.  My “just awoken” vision was blurry as I lay there on my back and threw aside a single bed sheet that I had slept under.  Fortunately, I looked down and saw what appeared to be a potato bug resting between my legs…. My eyes said potato bug – my brain said scorpion!  Somehow I jumped out of bed instantly without getting stung.  As I stood there on the carpet, looking down at the bed, the scorpion spun around and ran off the side of the bed and onto the floor.  I managed to quickly run over to my little kitchen and grab a drinking water glass which I trapped him in.  For awhile I made a pet out of him before his release back out into the chaparral.  We must have inadvertently brought him into the house in the under carriage of that old fridge the day before.  I’ll never know.  I was so affected by my evening with the scorpion that to this day when we’re in the Big Santa Anita Canyon, the sheets are always pulled way back for a cursory inspection for companions before crawling under the covers for the night.  Some adventures stay with us for a long, long time.  As a side note, the house that I had this experience in was called the Hill House.  It burned to the ground in the 2009 Station Fire.  My zodiac sign is  scorpio.

Monkey Flowers in Bloom along the Upper Winter Creek

Posted on August 30, 2012 – Written by Chris Kasten
Scarlet Monkey Flower, Upper Winter Creek.
Monkey Flower as seen between Hoegees and Mt. Wilson in the Winter Creek.

These two photos were taken recently along the Winter Creek, between cabin #139 and Mt. Wilson’s summit.  Scarlet monkey flower (Mimulus cardinalis) and Common monkey flower (Mimulus guttatus) can be seen growing in moist sands along the stream bed, especially above 3,000′ in elevation.  These colorful flowers add a splashy beauty to the speckled granite boulders and light sandy stream sands.


Plastics in Paradise – Chantry Flats’ New Generation of Litterbugs

Posted on August 23, 2012 – Written by Chris Kasten

While out on a hike on the Upper Falls Trail just this last week, I happened upon more plastic refuse than usual.  Plastic water bottles and food packaging seem to be on the increase in and around the pools just above Sturtevant Falls.  It’s really getting crazy.  Sadly crazy.  What amazes me is that we’re not talking about the immediate trailhead and turnouts up and down the Chantry Road, this area is nearly two miles in from Chantry Flats.  To be a litterbug  this far in takes motivation.  Where is the disconnect in some people’s  thoughts to leave trash like this?

Trash along the Upper Winter Creek Trail, Big Santa Anita Canyon. This scene is just above Sturtevant Falls.

The Angeles National Forest’ annual operating budget continues to diminish as the years go by.  The entire U.S. Forest Service, an agency within the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, is feeling the budget crunch across the country.  Essentially, the Angeles is a recreational forest, with no timber harvesting and very little mining going on.  The majority of funding received by this forest goes to fire suppression.  I recently saw a statistic up at the Big Pines Visitor Center that cited 96% of all fires that start on the Angeles are in some way caused by people.  I’m assuming that the remaining 4% is started by lightning, which primarily strikes in the high country areas of the San Gabriel mountains.  So, with that, the administrative emphasis will continue to be centered on reducing fire risks (hazard reduction) and responding to fire starts.

Plastic bottles floating in a pool just above Sturtevant Falls.

What’s left of budget, then,  is a thin slice of funding for recreation.  USFS staff assigned to maintaining and developing recreation sites are few and far between.  In fact, it would be fair to say that those staff continue to have larger and larger territories of the Angeles to maintain.  Taking care of campgrounds, picnic areas and trailheads has become daunting in the last couple of decades.  And while budgets for paid staff continue to fall, forest users continue to increase in number.  Day use in the Chantry Flat Recreation Area continues to climb and climb.  Five years back or more, one could more or less predict that a mid-week visit to Chantry might be rather quiet and unpeopled.  Now, especially since the Station Fire of 2009 and the ever expanding advent of the internet, any day of the week can find the parking areas at the Gabrielino and Upper Winter Creek trailheads filled with cars.  There might even be cars parked in turnouts a short distance down the road.  I’m talking about Tuesdays or Wednesdays!

Volunteers continue to help throughout the Angeles in the maintenance of trails, cleaning up trash, eradicating graffiti, taking care of campsites / picnic areas,  cleaning public toilets and much, much more.  Fortunately, much of the Angeles, including the Big Santa Anita Canyon, has had its’ hard working volunteers to fill in the wide gaps over the years.  However, there’s only so much volunteering can accomplish in the operation of any national forest.  We need more paid staff out on the trails around busy places like Chantry.  Some tasks, such as routinely cleaning restrooms and outhouses, should be paid.  Period.  Having a law enforcement presence in high-use areas on the forest is also necessary and requires funding.  There needs to be a Forest Service presence on the trails to help educate and model responsible outdoor practices for forest visitors and,ultimately, for the protection of the land.

If the wear and tear on our canyon and the rest of the Angeles’ front country is getting to you, pick up the phone, send a letter or e-mail your Forest Service.  Go to the Angeles National Forest website for contact information.  If you’re not satisfied with your progress within the Angeles N.F. bureaucracy, contact your local congress person and let them know your concerns.  In the end, Forest Service budgets are decided upon in Washington, DC.  On a much more local level, the Chantry Flats Recreation area is administered by the Los Angeles River Ranger District of the Angeles.  The phone number for the LARRD is:  (818) 899-1900.  While volunteering on our national forests will always be necessary, getting rangers hired and back out on the trails is imperative if we’re going to keep up with the influx of visitors to our mountains.  It’s all about priorities.

Chantry Flats to Mt Wilson X-Country via the Winter Creek

Posted on August 15, 2012 – Written by Chris Kasten

Chantry Flats to Mt. Wilson via the Winter Creek. Looking off a steep piece of granite from a ledge along the way.

Here’s another way to do Chantry Flats to Mt Wilson.    X-country via the Winter Creek Canyon is a seldom trod route.  You see, I’ve got this habit which will seem quite normal to some and quite unconventional to most.  I like to follow stream beds, canyon bottoms, in an upwards sort of way.  Never down canyon, oh no, just up – which seems to be a less clumsy way for me to do these things.  This way of hiking without the aid of trails or footpaths is often described as traveling x-country through the mountains.   It’s very leveling and calming for my mind.  Carefully stepping and watching for every detail makes me slow way down and find myself present to the world around me.  Some of my favorite x-country haunts are places like Bear Creek and Devils Canyon in the San Gabriel Wilderness.  The following describes a jaunt that I took four years ago from our little cabin at Fern Lodge to Mt. Wilson and back.  I have just gone through and updated this blog today on 10/17/2016.  A significant chunk of the day was spent traveling x-country up the Winter Creek to its’ farthest reaches.  These are my notes.

I said goodbye to my wife and left our little cabin at 10:20 a.m. on a warm summer morning this last Sunday.  Motes of light filled with the talc-like dust from hikers boots filled the air along the Gabrielino Trail to Roberts’ Camp.  From there my route followed the Lower Winter Creek Trail up past Hoegees Trail Camp.  Eventually, I got onto the trail that leads on to Manzanita Ridge and Sierra Madre.  Just near cabins 137-139 was where I cut down to the stream and then climbed up and over the last check dam in the Winter Creek.  I followed a precarious game trail along a loose, crumbly and nearly vertical slope to get around this man-made obstacle.

Looking up the Winter Creek stream bed about half-way between Hoegees and Mt. Wilson’s summit. This x-country route is basically non-technical, yet challenging on some of the steeper, narrower pitches.

Walking on older fallen logs (Big Cone Spruce) is a good way to make your way up the Winter Creek stream bed. Notice the moisture found here even in the month of August.

Once above the dam, my x-country experience began.  The steam bed was choked in places with log jams made up of Big Cone Spruce from way up high.  Found remnants of someone’s abandoned campsite not far above the last cabins.  Lots of stinging nettles grew lazily amongst the speckled gray boulders.  Scarlet and yellow monkey flowers began to make their appearance in damp sands.  At one point I stopped to take off my boots and soak my bare feet in a sparkling pool as electric blue dragon flies flew low along the water.  Further up a short distance I startled a rust colored hawk with a snake dangling from its’ talons.  The hawk then dropped the dangling narrow serpent about 8′ down into a bush where it wiggled off to safety.  Happy snake – bummed out bird.  Occasionally I climbed low cascades that had both wet and recently dried algal coatings on them.  Careful attention was needed for finding the right purchase for my feet and hand holds that would stay put.  At one point I reach for a hand hold while all my weight rests on my left foot.  Pretty soon I get that sewing machine action going in my calf muscle and the sweat pores down my forehead, stinging my eyes.  I got a bit dizzy.  Yes, Chris, you’ve got yourself into this predicament before.  Gently and nimbly I back out of my route alongside a dry waterfall as canyon wrens sing in their descending tones, laughing at this foolish human and his shock of white hair.  I climbed with an internal frame pack and was set up for overnight.  I was once, again reminded how much upper body strength it takes to climb up and over some of the rock pitches!  For the most part, the stream bed stayed narrow as its’ volume diminished with elevation gain.  There were seeps along the way that created damp, dark areas of soils and rock, often framed in ferns or grasses.  Gradually the stream gave out, the rocks and boulders became house size and the steepness increased.  Still, the angled sun-baked spruce logs lay lodged in the dry sand, sometimes creating a board walk of sorts.  The sun shifted gradually, putting me in welcome shade for a lot of my climbing.  The rocks, however, had retained the day’s heat and my mind was occasionally filled with the thoughts of basking serpents of all temperaments…

A smallish dry waterfall along the route to Mt. Wilson in the bottom of the deep and steep Winter Creek. I was able to climb up and over this choke point without too much challenge, with the exception of a lot of upper body workout!

I passed a mountain lion track in a pocket of damp sand.  Broke through occasional thickets of alder and willow, while lizards flitted about on the speckled boulders and polished cliff surfaces.  I finally passed my last forlorn pocket of seedy dampness.  The standing water too shallow for my backpacking filter intake to take advantage of.  Yellow jackets covered every bit of muddy dampness they could.  The wing beat of seemingly hundreds of flying insects filled the hot, still air.  There were no flat spots to pitch my little one man tent and I was now working on my last liter of water.  Onward I climbed on pitches of loose soils and crumbling bedrock.  The view back down the canyon was startling.  My route was as steep as a ladder, yet without good rungs.  An antique cable of braided wire that I had been following for some time became my line to hold onto for some of the steepest, loosest slopes.  Broken glass, ceramic insulator fragments and sections of rusted steel frame work, even water pipes, made their appearance as I approached the summit.  Man’s trash always goes way downhill.

A view back down the Upper Winter Creek from a peaceful, grassy ledge. Photo taken in the shade of Mt. Harvard while heading toward Mt. Wilson.

Finally, I reached the top of the mountain at an old building that used to house some kind of electrical switching gear.  There were hundreds of pieces of welding rod laying about the place.  Soon I wandered into a sadly neglected house with its’ door swung wide open, just as it had appeared earlier on in the summer when I was last up on the mountain poking around.  Wandering into the fly infested kitchen I said out loud, “Honey, I’m home!”  Just silence, punctuated by the swarming of flies and golden streams of light angled down into the rooms.  A sadness began to flow through me as I fell deeper into a tired funk.  I’ve gotta get out of here and get some much needed water.  Wandering over to the Larry Cotter memorial drinking fountain, I plop down on the adjacent picnic table.  It’s hard to get enough water into this tired, middle-aged body of mine.  I even drink down an apple juice in record time and then onto more water.  About six liters have been absorbed, most of it leaving my body in the form of profuse sweat and breath.  I’ve barely peed all day, and when I do, it’s dark yellow and not a whole lot, either.  The day is still so hot and muggy, even at 5,700′ up.  Since I’m now safely out of the grasp of the Winter Creek, why even camp out now?  I ponder sleeping out on top of my down sleeping bag, eating a P&J sandwich (my third) and swatting mosquitos and no-see-ums all night long on some dry ridge top.  The hell with that!  I’m heading back to the bliss of Joanie and the cabin – Yeah!

A cheerful cluster of California fuscia in the stream bed of the Winter Creek’s main fork. We are now very close to Mt. Wilson’s summit.

Looking across the upper Winter Creek from the Mt. Wilson Toll Road on my return back to our family cabin in the Big Santa Anita Canyon. That steep, wooded draw that you can see in Mt. Wilson’s cliff face is the route I took at the very end of the x-country adventure. Looking here at Mt. Wilson’s broad ridge top summit on the horizon, the historic astronomer’s “monastery” is near the tip to the right of the draw. Mt. Wilson’s 60″ and 100″ reflector telescopes are off to the left of the draw.

Eventually I drop down and down off the mountain to the David F. Drinkle memorial bench on Manzanita Ridge.  Our friend Bohdan built that bench years ago and did a beautiful  job on it.  It is solid and lasting.   I’m going to sit down on it as red ants swarm in their feverish way across the sun-baked sterile earth around me.  I make up some instant coffee with cold water in a tin cup, eat another tangerine, part of a P&J, cheese,nuts and soon I’m down the trail to the cabin in the gathering dusk.  In a bit of a happier, lighter way, I make up lyrics and sing songs that start me laughing.  I come up with the craziest lyrics and feel a bit drunk from the summer sun beating down on me earlier.  My voice spooks up a bear that crashes off the side of the mountain through thickets of God knows what.  At 9:20 p.m. I return home to Joanie in candle light.  She looks really clean!  Or I look…   I have a delicious tossed salad and wash it down with a high ball on the rocks.  My day begins to blur and I’m serenaded to sleep within minutes to the chorus of crickets.  A great day in the upper Winter Creek!

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 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.