Here’s a Douglas Wallflower alongside the Upper Falls Trail as seen this last Monday while hiking up the Big Santa Anita Canyon under cloudy skies. Our series of much-needed rain storms have brought back thick green grasses and the start to what’ll most likely be a colorful Spring of other wildflowers as well. Joanie and I hiked the two mile Falling Sign Loop that originates out of Fern Lodge.
Sturtevant Falls was tumbling tumbling down nicely. The of scent white sage peppered the cool air and the background surf-like sound of the stream followed us the whole way. We brought along an old shovel, cleaning off small slides here and there. Wild lilacs (buck brush) are still sending their mild lavender scent into the canyon breezes while the bright red orange of Indian paintbrush pokes up from the damp earth near Hoegee’s Drop-Off. And overarching along most of the route, the Laurel bay blossoms still cling to the dark green canopies. Look for the tender dark reddish purple leaves of the canyon big-leaf maples as their foliage begins to fill back in for a new season. Even the white alders are pushing out a myriad of their bright green leaflets, replacing that smokey look of dormancy with new life.
Hike Chantry’s Gabrielino for wildflowers when you get a chance. Try to do this sooner than later! This well trod trail is also known by many Boy Scouts as the Silver Moccasin up until you arrive at Shortcut Canyon in the West Fork of the San Gabriel River, where the two trails go their separate ways.
Look at hiking this trail section these last days of April and the next couple of weeks in May. Recently my wife and I did the Falling Sign Loop, starting out from Fern Lodge Junction, heading up the Gabrielino (aka Stock Trail) to Falling Sign Junction. We returned back down the Upper Falls Trail to Fern Lodge. The loop’s only a couple of miles in length, yet that one mile section of the Gabrielino between Fern Lodge and Falling Sign Junction will offer you not only wildflowers, but vibrant green fern beds, lush green grasses and the ever-present views over the Big Santa Anita and its’ countless little side canyons.
Our epic winter continues, with Sturtevant Falls looking more beautiful than ever. Last weekend our rain gauge had overflowed from the accumulation of a couple more storms before we could hike back in and check it. The gauge holds 12″ of rain before it overflows, so this tells something about the rains this month.
Big Santa Anita Creek comes alive after recent storms. 55′ high Sturtevant Falls is back in its’ former glory as well! As we all know, years of drought have taken their toll throughout the southwest, especially in the myriad of canyons throughout the mountains of Southern California.
Joanie and I discovered 9.57″ of rain in our gauge at Fern Lodge on January 18th. Several storms, back to back, have made a huge difference in the appearance of not only the Big Santa Anita creek, but all the rest of the front country streams in the Angeles. A week later, we hiked up and past Sturtevant Falls where we took these two photos.
As of today, February 10th, a lot more rain has fallen. The stream beds have been scoured of the dark organic mat that’s built up for years. This has left bright, colorful sands and rocks under the clear waters. Beautiful.
This gopher snake is doing her part in keeping down the rodents. This photo was taken recently in the Fern Lodge area of Big Santa Anita Canyon. Snakes of all kinds abound, mostly non-venemous. All snakes are by nature, secretive, preferring to not be seen. Unfortunately, gopher snakes are occasionally mistaken for rattlesnakes. However, this snake, like most, is harmless to people. Gopher snakes seek out mice, rats, frogs and occasionally ground squirrels. This snake is also a mortal enemy to rattlesnakes.
Gopher Snake in rock wall. Big Santa Anita Canyon, Fern Lodge area.
Like king snakes, gopher snakes take their prey through constriction, swallowing their catch whole. This is done by the snake purposely dislocating its’ jaws, allowing larger prey to pass on through to the esophagus and stomach. Gopher snakes can grown upwards of 4′ in length, climbing through rocks and even occasionally up a tree! My wife and I once watched a 3 footer climb up the side of a mature canyon live oak at the trail junction of the Upper Falls and Gabrielino trails. It was amazing to watch it slowly and carefully work it’s way up the steeply sloping trunk. These are patient creatures to say the least! If you are lucky enough to spot one, give him or her a little space.
Last weekend’s double storm system brought much needed moisture to the Big Santa Anita Canyon. The San Gabriel mountains, along with most of Southern California, received a brief reprieve from the lengthy drought. Multitudes of canyons received enough rain (little snow) to thoroughly scour out the stream beds. The black organic mat which had affixed itself to all the rocky and sandy bottoms of streams and pools the last couple of years was washed away in just a few days.
White and tan sands have once again come into view. Pools that had decreased in depth have deepened. This is good news, not only from the standpoint of esthetics, but for wildlife. Fish and other creatures will benefit from this natural cleansing. Spawning will now become possible. Water temperatures will decrease and available oxygen will increase. This change is good for everyone.
Our rain gauge near Fern Lodge Junction, not far from Chantry Flats, received over 7.36″ of combined rain from the two storms. The sounds of a tumbling mountain stream have returned and the myriad of organic scents are throughout the Big Santa Anita and Winter Creeks. Especially noticeable is the staccato call of the Canyon Wren, with the descending notes reminiscent of laughter followed by a quick little question…. The dust is gone for now and everything gleams clean and green.
The attached photo was taken last Sunday just above Sturtevant Falls on the Upper Falls Trail. Notice that the water has been colored by the tannins of fallen leaves and abundant organics from the mountain soils. A hopeful big leaf canyon maple puts out her fresh leaves and catkins.
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.
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.
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!