Saturday, January 29, 2011

Fish Canyon Falls Hike - January 29, 2011

Fish Canyon Falls See Fish Canyon Falls Hike Description at Dan's Hiking Pages

I have had an unusual eagerness in hitting the trial in Fish Canyon today. I’ve been on this trial many times before, but this time is different. On Tuesday, January 25, voters in Azusa made a decision that will forever and inextricable change the face of Fish Canyon. In a 2-1 margin of victory, Azusans voted to uphold a July 17, 2010 city council decision which approved a new mining plan for Vulcan Materials, which owns 270 acres at the mouth of Fish Canyon.

The yearlong battle over mining in Fish Canyon has caused me to reflect on my own experiences with Fish Canyon and Van Tassel Ridge dating back to February 1997. Two years earlier year I had purchased my first copy of John Robinson’s Trails of the Angeles and was excited to see a trail description for Fish Canyon Falls. Unfortunately the mining operation in the mouth of the canyon restricted access. On February 24, 1997, me, my 12-year-old son, Micah, and his friend, Ricky launched out on our first adventure to Fish Canyon taking advantage of an offer by the mining company, CalMat, to providing free shuttle service through the quarry. That outing was marred by a CalMat employee who horribly berated and mistreated us for inadvertently parking in the wrong place. I’ll spare you the details, but his shameful treatment of us was not a very good public relations move and put a very nasty face on the mining company.

Mayan benches Vulcan's Azusa Rock QuarryFast forward to 1999, CalMat was purchased by Vulcan Materials. And it was that year that the City of Duarte built the infamous access trail up and over Van Tassel Ridge. I hiked to Fish Canyon Falls once in 2000 and once in 2004, but it was 2005 when Vulcan stepped up in providing greater access. Starting on April 23, 2005, Jasen Talley, Azusa Rock general foreman, initiated shuttle service through the quarry for four consecutive Saturdays. I had not heard about it until I showed up at the trailhead about 7:00 on Saturday morning (4/23) hoping to find a way through the quarry. When I arrived, there was a big white van parked on the road next to the trailhead. The van door stood open and a tall gentleman stood next to the van postured to receive passengers. Hmmm, what’s this about? Upon inquiry, I learned that Vulcan was providing free shuttle access that day. Cool! What a pleasant surprise! Unlike my previous experience, the face of the new company was kinder and with a touch of southern hospitality.

Over the next several years, Vulcan provided four consecutive access days in April and May, which became an annual hike for me. In the past several years, Vulcan increased the access days to be scattered throughout the year. I wondered about Vulcan’s motives...was it a PR move to gain public support for their mining plan, or was it an altruistic desire to be good neighbors? Or maybe a little of both? Regardless of the motive, I greatly appreciated the access days, as did the public, showing up by the hundreds on each day. And Jasen Talley and his team always have been gracious hosts, putting a kind face on a big company.

Sign-in tableIn early 2010, Vulcan brought its new mining proposal to the City of Azusa for approval. It was a full year of review by the planning commission, city council, public hearings, and passionate debate. My initial feelings about the plan were skepticism and an inclination to be opposed to it. But after many hours of investigation, I concluded with the four out of five city council members that the plan was worthy of approval, as did two out of three voters in the Azusa special election last week. And over the past year and particularly over the past month, I found myself genuinely liking the various Vulcan personnel I have observed and gotten to know. My sense is that Vulcan realizes that good business isn’t about making money. It’s about serving people and meeting needs. And when that is done well, it’s profitable.

So it is with an eagerness that I show up on this Saturday to hike Fish Canyon. As I drive into the Vulcan parking lot, I am a surprised to see a gazillion cars and a sizable crowd at the sign-in table. I sign in, jump in a van and off we go. As we drive through the quarry, I look at the 40-foot Mayan benches and visualize them being replaced by 12-inch micro-benches as part of the new reclamation plan.

On Fish Canyon Trail9:22 a.m. - Begin hike. Chilly air greets me. The creek rushes briskly. The grasses are green and the deciduous trees are leafless. Hardly anything in bloom. My pace is slow as I soak in the beauty of the canyon and stop frequently to snap pictures. Windows of solitude are interspersed with parties of hikers coming and going. Recent rains have brought down debris on portions of the trail. It’s fun to run into friends and hikers I’ve met previously. The trail snakes though patches of cool shade and warm sun. The pleasant aromas of nature surround me. I pull out my pruners and trim back some intruding branches along the way. Red toyon berries add a splash of color. Leafless poison oak branches hide the identity of this toxic plant. The rich chaparral plants on the canyon walls look like they have enjoyed our winter rains.

10:34 - Take a side jaunt to Darlin’ Donna Falls. It is flowing nicely. I climb the steep bank on the left to get a view of its upper cascades. Continue on. There is a clustering of hikers at the main stream crossing where one by one they negotiate the rushing creek. I saunter along the east bank now as the trail climbs the canyon wall. At times it feels like the 210 freeway at rush hour as streams of hikers trod the narrow path. I do more trimming en route.

A crowd at Fish Canyon Falls11:09 - Falls come into view. Lots of water and people. I trim off the smaller branches of a tree-like laurel sumac shrub that has fallen across the trail.

11:20 - Fish Canyon Falls. The roar of the 80-foot, three-tier waterfall and the happy sounds of voices echo off the steep rock walls. I count about 60 people. The scene is alive. I linger a while and enjoy watching people enjoy this wonderful place.

12:00 - Leave falls. Continue to trim plants. The weather is perfect. I put on my work gloves and remove a pile of rocks from the trail. Enjoying some nice spans of solitude as the crowds are thinning. Taking lots of pics with different lighting now. Loving the hike. Pondering what I’ll write in the blog.

Nearing the ned of the hike1:37 - Arrive back at the bridge. Soon jump in a van. Not many cars left at the parking area. Sign out at 1:45. Eric from Vulcan reports that there were 457 hikers today. I think that may be pushing a record. What a thoroughly enjoyable outing.

Epilog - I am excited about the new easy-access trail that will be built through the quarry as part of the new mining plan. Hikers will be able to enjoy a nice 5-mile hike 24/7/365. No more shuttles and crowds and time constraints (See Fish Canyon Falls - A New Era - June 21, 2014 Grand Opening ). But I think I’ll miss these access days. There is something special about a shared experience, about being with hundreds of others and partaking of nature’s treasure together. Ah, but I guess there will always be Icehouse Canyon and Mt. Baldy! icon

On board the shuttle van
See Fish Canyon Falls Hike Description at Dan's Hiking Pages

NEXT > Fish Canyon Falls Hike - March 19, 2011
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Saturday, January 1, 2011

Garcia Trail Hike - 1-1-11

View from Azusa PeakSee Garcia Trail Description on Dan's Hiking Pages

I can’t think of a better way to start the new year than to sit on Colorado Blvd in Pasadena watching the Rose Parade in the morning and hiking in the afternoon. I suppose watching football would be good too, but since the Rose Bowl is not broadcast this year on regular TV (!!!!!), hiking gets the nod. As we were driving back from Pasadena after the parade, the beauty of clear skies drew me to hike. I choose my beloved Garcia Trail for a short 3-mile hike above my home in Azusa.

Garcia Trail1:30 - Begin hike. It’s sunny, the air is brisk, and light clouds are coming in for rain tonight. I love the green grass. Virtually nothing is in bloom but the red berries of toyon add a splash of color as do the remaining fall leaves. Soon I can see the downtown L.A. skyline to the west and snow-capped Ontario Peak to the east. Lots of people on the trial including families with young children, which is great to see. I’m happy that all of those walking dogs on the trail today are using leashes. The narrow trail climbs steeply through rich chaparral with expanding views of Azusa, Glendora, and beyond to the ocean. Nearing the top, I run into an old friend who I used to work with. We’ve crossed path on trials several times over the years. After an enjoyable conversation of catching up and swapping hiking stories, I continue on.

2:26 - Reach Glendora Ridge Motorway, the fire road that runs along the ridge. Great views to the north toward the snow-capped ring of peaks surrounding the Crystal Lake basin. Just across the canyon lies Summit 2843, which I hiked to at Thanksgiving. I turn east for the final pitch to my destination.

View east from Azusa Peak2:37- Azusa Peak (2081’). I love the views from here with the human sprawl to the south and the majestic San Gabriels Mountains to the north. The visibility is good today with haze on the distant horizons. The sun reflects off the ocean. The white wooden cross is covered with an ever-changing barrage of messages. The breeze is cool so I put on my long-sleeved shirt. The new Target store a few blocks from our house sits prominently in the neighbors below. I enjoy the summit to myself.

2:45 - Leave Azusa Peak and head down. A couple sits on the water collection slab gazing out over cities below. I enjoy my descent. Still others coming up the trail. Fountain grass shimmers in the late afternoon sun. My steps are guarded in places as loose material on the steep trial surface can be slippery. The recent rains have brought life to plants. A beautiful hawk soars overhead.

3:22 - End hike. What a nice way to begin the new year! I am always so thankful to have such a splendid trail so close to my house. icon

See Garcia Trail Description on Dan's Hiking Pages