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.

Autumn Splendor at First Water and the Winter Creek, Chantry Flats’ Trails

Posted on October 11, 2012 – Written by Chris Kasten

Autumn is a great time to get out and hike the trails out of Chantry Flats.  With the recent cooling temperatures and even a little rain on the way, this coming week should feel refreshingly fall-like.   The dust of the trails should be laying down and the spicy scent of fallen bay leaves will awaken you.  This last week I photographed a couple of the accompany scenes that evoked a sense of returning to my favorite time of year.

Looking skyward through a canopy of Big Leaf Canyon maples. Big Santa Anita Canyon.

Big leaf canyon maples, once referred to as “water maples” (see “The Southern Sierra”, Charles Francis Saunders)  are plentiful along stream courses in most of the front country canyons of the Angeles.  Occasionally, if you look high up the slopes, well above any stream bed, you might spot one of these trees that’s gotten a toe hold in a fold or shady nook that provides just enough water to eke out its’ existence.  Maples are deciduous, meaning that they drop their leaves and remain dormant until spring makes her return.  The maples you’ll see in the Big Santa Anita and Winter Creek canyons are all of the same species (Acer macrophyllum), are capable of producing really large leaves and produce shade throughout most of the year.  In the fall, their leaves begin to produce tinges of yellow in the margins, gradually becoming mostly yellow-gold by the time we’re approaching late October to early November.  By mid-December, most of their leaves have fallen to the ground, their smooth gray trunks often contrasting vividly against the dark green-blues of canyon slopes.

Big Leaf Canyon maple is backlit in the Winter Creek. Big Santa Anita Canyon.

One of the memorable sides to fall in our canyons is the wonderful, earthy scent of the maple leaves mingling with the damp soils.  Like so many of our long-term memories, scent is a trigger for reliving events and places.  There’s this eternal aspect to every year’s return to autumn.  Over the years, I’m drawn back to some place deep inside.  It’s as if hiking back to the same haunts that I visited when still a child continue to call me with the same longing, yet at a later time in life.  Is there any way of merging with this scene?  Will I ever consummate this relationship, dissolving once and for all the illusion of the duality of myself and the outdoor world?  Traveling throughout our canyons in the fall, regardless of how you do it, may be some kind of a timeless redux at wholeness and merging with this earth.  However, it takes time.  For things to stick, it may take both time and stillness.  A chance to absorb what’s going on between us and the scene.   A time to come home.

This makes me think of a book that I picked up years ago at Christmas time that I’ve continued to return to, again and again.  It’s entitled “In Praise of Slowness – Challenging the Cult of Speed, by Carl Honore.  Here there are great insights into the habit of occasionally slowing down our fast-paced lives in favor of becoming present to what is right around us, right now.  The fall season may be just that, a reminder to not only go inside ourselves, but to be present to this moment before us.  That somehow, being present to all this day is miracle enough.