One-year anniversary of the New Access Trail through the Quarry
For many years access to one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the San Gabriel Mountains was dreadfully thwarted by a huge quarry operation at the mouth of the canyon. That inextricably changed on June 21, 2014 when the new access trail built by Vulcan Materials opened to the public.
Prior to June 21, 2014, easy access to Fish Canyon was only on select Saturdays when Vulcan Materials shuttled hikers through the quarry. They began the access days in April 2005, and prior to that, easy access was hit and miss, or hikers could climb a horribly grueling trail up and over Van Tassel Ridge.
On the grand opening day last June, I was a part of history as I joined scores of others who hiked the new access trail into Fish Canyon to launch the new era. Read about the 2014 grand opening here. What a long-awaited gift it is that we can now hike to Fish Canyon Falls seven days a week, 365 days a year!
So today I hike to Fish Canyon to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the access trail. I’ve also been hiking to Fish Canyon once a month this year to experience the canyon in the full cycle of the seasons.
I drive the short distance from my home in Azusa and am the first one to pull into the trailhead parking lot.
7:00 AM – Begin hike. I have a full schedule for the day, so my pace is strong. The temperature is pleasant but it’s going to be near 90 today. The canyon is in full shade with the sun starting to land on Van Tassel Ridge. The heavy quarry equipment sits silent. A goal today is to photograph a sample of every plant species in bloom. Almost immediately a giant blazing star is my first subject. Next are the white flowers of mule fat, white sage, California buckwheat, cliff aster, and laurel sumac. Next are the yellows with mustard, golden yarrow (transition to the riparian trail), brittlebush, and deerweed. Then some wild Canterbury bells (purple) and sticky monkeyflower (orange).
7:15 – Cross the bridge into the national forest. The flow of water in the creek is meager. I love the beauty of Fish Canyon and the freshness of the morning. Spring is behind and the weedy grasses are yellowing. The City of Duarte recently received a grant to hire a temporary trail crew to do some maintenance and improvement. Portions of the trail reflect their work. Holly-leaf cherry shrubs are full of green fruit (unripe). A pile of bear scat indicates a meal of cherries. It’s sad that some mature white alders in one section of the creak have died. Their leafless branches are reminiscent of winter. There is not much in bloom. I snap pics of blossoms on elegant clarkia, tree tobacco, oleander, yucca, eupatory, wishbone bush, agave, heartleaf penstemon, dudleya, scarlet larkspur, toyon, and narrow-leafed bedstraw. A lone occurrence of Botta’s clarkia/farewell to spring is fitting as summer arrives today at 12:38 p.m.—the summer solstice.
7:52 – Cross the main creek. It’s bone dry. The trail crew has trimmed back the mule fat on the east side of the creek making passage easier. The presence of graffiti is saddening. The blackberry patch has been suffering damage and deterioration over the last number of months and I don’t why. The rare Dudleya densiflora is in full bloom but I snap a picture only from the trail as I press on to the falls. There is an eerie silence as I approach the falls.
8:02 – Fish Canyon Falls. I’m eight minutes slower than my hike on that historic day one year ago. It always feels kind of strange to be standing here at Fish Canyon Falls in silence. No water falling. No noisy voices. Just the sound of mosquitos and birds. I snap a shot of creek monkey flower (yellow). There is only a small stream of water wetting the face of the 80-foot waterfall. Tadpoles swim around the green pool. I enjoy my aloneness for two minutes before the man and woman arrive. In another ten minutes a dozen more people arrive. I photograph the growing amount of criminal vandalism which is spoiling the beauty of this special place. I don’t linger long since I have a full day in front me.
8:30 – Leave the falls. The canyon is in the sun now and photographing flowers and scenery takes on a different light. I take a side jaunt to visit Darlin’ Donna Falls, as is my custom, but about half way along the two-minute route, a beautiful spider web blocks the path, strung between the leafy foliage of eupatory. A splendid spider sits in the middle of his finely spun web waiting for breakfast. I don’t have the heart to destroy the web nor trample the vegetation to get around it. So I turn back. The stream is flowing nicely so I know that Darlin’ Donna is flowing too.
As I pass Old Cheezer Mine (the location of the matilija/ dudleya interpretive sign), I encounter a line of hikers coming up the trail. And they keep coming…it’s like a long freight train. I ask what the group is and they say they are a Chinese hiking club. They hike every Sunday. There are more than 100 of them today. It’s great to see so many people experiencing the outdoors. But I always wonder how people can enjoy being with such a massive group in a long narrow line. I’m not wired for that kind of outing unless it’s waiting for a coaster ride at an amusement park.
I continue down trail enjoying the sun and the beautiful scenery. As I get near the end, I hear voices down below at the creek bottom. I soon can see a good size group down there and wonder what that is about. As I approach the location where the trail meets the creek, I see a line of hikers emerging. I find out that they had gotten separated from the rest of the Chinese group and took a wrong turn. I don’t know how far they followed the creek, but as they return to the main trial, some of them head back to the trailhead…they have had enough of Fish Canyon for the day.
I cross the bridge from the national forest and follow the year-old access trail through the Vulcan quarry. Others are just beginning their hike. I can tell it’s going be a hot day and am glad I beat the heat.
9:56 – End hike. That’s a pretty short Fish Canyon visit for me. There are 46 cars in the parking lot and it’s about 78 degrees.
Epilog – What a blessing to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the access trail and a new era! In spite of withering vegetation, dead weeds, and meager water flow, this was a most pleasant outing. And what a treat to experience the cycle of the seasons and the natural course of the plant communities.
|History in the Making – One Year Ago
ACCESS TRAIL GRAND OPENING: On Wednesday, June 18, 2014 the new access trail was dedicated, and Saturday, June 21, the trail opened for public use.
See Fish Canyon Falls Hike Description at Dan’s Hiking Pages (including a link list for my other blog posts for Fish Canyon)
See Plants in Fish Canyon at Dan’s Hiking Pages
(including links to various plant resources)