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.

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.


Consider Bringing Just a Little Extra on Your Next Hike….

Posted on April 13, 2012 – Written by Chris Kasten

The 10 essentials

When out hiking or biking the beautifully rugged canyons of the San Gabriels, it’s tempting to just go without any extras.  No pack, nothing in our hands, nada.  Yet, here’s something to consider.

The Big Santa Anita Canyon, like many front-country canyons, is tantalizingly close to the the urban expanses of pavements, cars and cell phone reception.  In no time, well maybe 20 minutes, you’re at the trailhead and onto single-track foot trails or perhaps ambling x-country up a steep canyon.  The mindset of urban and suburban thoughts barely have the time to shift to the contemplative, natural thought processes of traveling in relatively open and wild places.  Your body’s muscle memory hasn’t quite caught up either.  It’s all happening so fast.

What a gift this is to have such quick access to the canyons, ridge lines and slopes that are so dear to our hearts.  More and more people each year are discovering the same miracle of this unique geography.  And although we continue to spontaneously take off for the mountains from our suburban springboards, doing that mental and physical shift over and over, again can be met with surprises at any stage in our lives.

Eventually we all get caught out in the dark without a flashlight during those autumn days when the amber light dwindles rapidly to long nights.  We run out of water on a hot and exposed ridge line in mid-summer.  We end up soaked to the bone on a frigid winter day that started out sunny and all too quickly became windy and rainy before returning to the trailhead.  We thought that the trail certainly should have peeled off the ridge by now or that we may have missed the junction just below the campground that we really need to find before starting dinner and getting the tent set up.  If I’d brought a detailed map of the area along with a compass, maybe I’d already be there and fed. On and on it goes.  Rarely does nature bail us out of our mistakes.  And …. maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll run into someone who is prepared for being out here.  I hope they get here fast!

Instead of depending on someone else to help you out of the unforeseen, consider being a guiding light to someone else who just might need you!  By carrying a small number of essential items, you may just end up being a blessing to a complete stranger in an entirely unpredictable situation that might have ended tragically had you not been there.  You just never know.

So, what should you have on you, regardless of the time of year?  Here’s a short list.

A well-stocked first aid kit, with the knowledge of how to use it.  Add a Sawyer Extractor kit to your first aid kit.

Flash light or headlamp with fresh batteries.

At least a liter of water for each person travelling.  Two liters if the weather’s hot.

A detailed map of the area where you’ll be travelling.  Review your map prior to leaving the trailhead!

An orienteering compass with transparent base plate.  If you have a GPS device, still bring a reliable compass.

Light jacket.  PolarTec or another type of synthetic fiber is a good idea in case you get wet.

Space blanket.  This is a very tightly folded, silvery coated sheet that you could wrap yourself into if you had to spend the night unexpectedly .  Once you take it out and unfold it,  you’ll never get it back in the original package!

Lightweight poncho or rain gear.

50′ of parachute cord or equivalent.

Waterproof matches and/or butane lighter.

Cell phone.  If you’re in a spot where you might have reception, you’d be able to keep the panic level down at home, while letting them know that you’re just late and o.k.  If you need Search & Rescue, you can reach them as well.

Chantry Flats Cabins – How Did They Get Here?

Posted on April 5, 2012 – Written by Chris Kasten

An idyllic scene of cabins found along the trail in the Big Santa Anita Canyon. They are privately owned by individuals and families within the U.S. Forest Service Recreational Residence Program. The special-use permits for these cabins prohibits them being rented out.  Please respect the privacy of cabin owners.

As of  January 2020, Maggie Moran became the new owner of Adams Pack Station!  Please call her at the Pack Station (626) 447-7356 with your questions regarding their general store and cabins currently for sale.   The Pack Station is currently developing an Instagram page as well as a new website.  As soon as these are up and running, I’ll update this blog with their links.  Thank you –     Chris

When first hiking into the Big Santa Anita Canyon along most any of the  trails, one can’t help wondering about the origins of the little Chantry Flats cabins that appear alongside the paths and streams.  Construction of these early dwellings dates back to the early teens and 1920′s.  Back then, during the Great Hiking Era, the U.S. Forest Service was actually encouraging the building of cabins on “never before settled” suitable locations in a number of national forests throughout the United States.  In the Big Santa Anita Canyon, all kinds of potential cabin “sites” were discovered and developed.  Typically an Angeles National Forest ranger would hike to the potential site with the cabin builder applicant for approval of a special use permit or not.   Back then, the Chantry Road to the current trailhead did not exist.  The road would not be built to Chantry Flat until 1935.  Therefore, you would hike all the way from Sierra Madre, thus adding about 4 miles each way to your destination.  It was over 8 miles one way to Sturtevant’s Camp, versus the current 4 mile trip in!  There were motivated hikers, to say the least.

Maggie Moran leads her pack train down the Big Santa Anita Canyon on the Gabrielino National Recreation Trail. This is how supplies are transported between Chantry Flat and the private cabins along the hiking trails. Photo taken near Fern Lodge, just downstream from Sturtevant Falls.

When the cabin building program began, “recreational resident cabins” (U.S. Forest Service language) numbered over 220 + in the Big Santa Anita and Winter Creek canyons.  Materials for these cabins was hauled in on mules and people’s backs for the numerous building projects.  Pack trains travelled the narrow mountain trails seven days a week through the busy construction years.  Not only cabins were being built, but trail resorts were springing up as well!  Five resorts alone were in existence during this period.  Hoegees, Roberts’ Camp, First Water, Fern Lodge and Sturtevant’s were enormously popular for groups of hikers seeking an overnight experience.  Information about the colorful events from the camps is a separate subject entirely.  Just imagine how the canyon would have sounded and looked during the evenings as lanterns flickered through the little windows amongst the trees and reflecting stream.

As for the cabins, a number of natural and man-made events pared down the initial number of structures dramatically.  A great flood that took place in 1938 (the 38′Flood) washed out many cabins, not only in the Big Santa Anita, but in other front country canyons such as the Arroyo Seco and San Gabriel Canyon as well.  The next sizable event for the canyon was the 1953 Monrovia Peak Fire, which started up at Spring Camp near the summit of Monrovia Peak.  More cabins succumbed to this catastrophic fire which burned for weeks.  In 1969, yet another flood occurred, which took out some more of the cabins.  Amongst all this, occasionally cabin owners have had a part in accidentally burning down their own dwellings.  Although uncommon, it has happened even into recent times.  Today, there are less than 79 cabins left standing in the Winter Creek and Big Santa Anita canyons.

The cabins are privately owned and are a labor of love to say the least.  To this day, supplies are hauled in by the Adams Pack Station at Chantry Flats.  Items such as propane, lumber, groceries, furniture, roofing and more are taken to the trailside cabins by the pack string of mules and donkeys.  Also,  a frequent foot patrol takes place to ensure the security of the cabins.  The cabins are unavailable for rent to the general public.  If you’re interested in purchasing one, go to the Adams Pack Station website ( to inquire about cabins that may be up for sale.  The cabins are located on public land, so cabin owners must comply with U.S. Forest Service regulations in regard to everything from paint color, type of roofing, sanitation practices and the gathering of downed wood.  When you’re out hiking or backpacking, please respect the privacy of the cabins.   Many people have been drawn to the Big Santa Anita Canyon due to its’ popularity as one of most scenic L.A. County waterfall hikes.  These unique little cabins are a sweetly unexpected find for the eyes.

If you’re interested in ever spending the night in a cabin, there is one place where you can rent.  Sturtevant Camp, located a couple of miles upstream from Sturtevant Falls, is available to individuals, couples and groups by reservation.  The camp has comfortable, clean amenities and is open throughout the year.  Check out the Adams Pack Station website for details on how to make this happen.

Chantry Flats Check Dams – During the Construction Years

Posted on March 28, 2012 – Written by Chris Kasten

A tractor shovel begins trenching a site for a foundation of a check dam. This spot is located just downstream from Sturtevant Camp.  Circa 1962

Here are some photos of the Chantry Flats check dams during their construction back in the early 1960′s. The U.S. Forest Service and Los Angeles County Flood Control District teamed up to engineer and construct these Lincoln Log type structures in many of the front country canyons of the Angeles National Forest.  These structures were designed to keep the stream bed’s ever-moving alluvium “in check” with hopes of reducing the accumulation of sand and rock in the Big Santa Anita’s reservoir further down canyon. Regardless of how they’ve performed, they’re here to stay for the foreseeable future.  The paved fire road that you begin your descent down into Robert’s Camp is the beginning of the construction road that was bull dozed all the way past Sturtevant Camp.  Another road was also built on up the Winter Creek and beyond Hoegee’s trail camp.  Today you can still make out the remnant switch backs of the “Burma Road” which climbed up and past Sturtevant Falls.  Look for the non-native Italian cypress, pines and even eucalyptus trees that were planted on the abandoned road bed after the dams were installed.  The Big Santa Anita Canyon Trails Map depicts the location of the abandoned Burma Road.  The map is available at Adams Pack Station or    Following the road is a hazardous proposition any time of year, so be especially careful for drop-offs, rattlesnakes, etc.  If you’ve hiked on past Cascade picnic area, you’ll strain to imagine that a road ran through here, wide enough to accomodate cement mixers, skip loaders, cranes and more.

A check dam nears completion at Cascade Picnic Area, Big Santa Anita Canyon. A gunite cap will be added next.  Circa 1963.

The destruction of pristine riparian environments would be unthinkable in our day and age.  Yet, during the late 1950′s, this type of project was considered prudent land management and protection of watersheds.  Essentially, the dams have changed the natural hydraulic grade of much of the Big Santa Anita Canyon and Winter Creek.  The dams have created a stair-step type of profile in sections of the canyon bottom.  Behind each dam are thousands of cubic yards of alluvium (sand, gravels and boulders) that are for now “stuck” in a static location.  One day nature will have her way and there will be a phenomenal movement of material that will wash downstream.  The engineers referred to this material behind each dam as a “debris cone.”  In 1969, an El Nino storm pattern brought torrential rainfall to Southern California.  One night during the ’69 Flood, a number of the smaller “sill dams” blew out.  A sill dam is the lower (smaller) dam that you’ll often see just below or downstream of the larger check dam.  The sill dam’s function is to protect the foundation of the larger check dam.  Anywhere upstream of Cascade picnic area, you’ll notice that all the check dams have their accompanying sill dams.  Anywhere below the confluence of the North Fork, you’ll notice that these sill dams are missing.  Look carefully and notice the exposed foundations of the dams.  One day they may collapse.  This all happened during one set of storms in ’69!  Slowly, nature has been healing from all this damming of the canyon.  Decades later you can see the ivy, black berry bushes, mosses, fallen trees and sharp-edged boulders softening the scene.  Canyon wrens flit back and forth into the aging rip-rap after spring floods ring through the canyons.  Stout, black rattlesnakes gently drape their coils off the edge of the walls of the dams during the warm, drowsy days of August.  The canyon is gradually claiming all the dams.  We’re just hiking and feeling all this. in one part of this long, long timeline.

November, 2015.   I recently heard from Dennis Logue, a member of the construction crew who built both the road and dams starting back in 1958.  We began corresponding.  He graciously has given permission for me to add his memories in the form of several letters to Canyon Cartography, describing the project and some of the colorful characters that were involved.   Here they are:

The first letter from Dennis. Red Shangraw & Elsie the deer

Dennis Logue is seen working on uppermost check dam in Big Santa Anita Canyon. July 1962. He’s the third man out to the left near the future spillway.

Second letter describing challenge of road building and method of applying gunite.

Third letter describing return of riparian plants and local animals. Response to 1969 Flood.

Fourth letter covering Dennis’ experience working with the crew on dams along with details on excavating for check dams.