Sunday, August 23, 2015

Fish Canyon Falls Hike - August 23, 2015

Fish Canyon Falls, Angeles National Forest, August 23, 2015
August is not the season to visit Fish Canyon. Along with September, it’s probably the worst month of the year to hike there. But in continuing my monthly visits for a year, I bit the bullet and ventured into the canyon. I had realistic expectations: dead grass and weedy plants, flowerless withering vegetation, dry falls and creek, hot, dusty. And that pretty much describes how it was. Yet looking past the summer blight, one can still find natural beauty in Fish Canyon…it’s not a reason to hike there in August, but more of a consolation.

The forecast is for clear skies and heat, so an early start is fitting. My wife has the car this weekend, so I have to walk to the trailhead, about 2.3 miles from my home in Azusa. There are 15 cars in the lot.

Start of Fish Canyon access trail in Vulcan Materials’ Azusa Rock quarry
7:22 AM - Begin hike. I walk through the quite quarry. Vulcan continues to make progress on grinding down the mining benches to restore the mountainside. California buckwheat is about the only thing in bloom, and some of it is turning its rust red. After the transition past the big rock to the riparian section, I observe a single occurrence of golden yarrow and Canterbury bells. This is a big contrast to the abundance of flowers in the spring. The temps are pleasant as the canyon is still in full shade.

View from Fish Canyon Trail toward Fish Creek and dead white alders, Angeles National Forest
I cross the bridge into the national forest at 7:41. The creek is bone dry, accented by some scarlet monkeyflower in bloom. I wander along the trail up canyon and am observant of what’s changed since last month. A lot of new sprouts of castor bean are growing along the trail’s edge near the junction to Van Tassel Ridge. I pull many of these invasive non-natives. They come up easily. Alarmed to see a nasty goathead weed, aka puncturevine (Tribulus terrestris). Get rid of that bad boy. Goathead weed (Tribulus terrestris) on Fish Canyon Trail, Angeles National Forest. Snap pics of cliff aster and chicory-leaved stephanomeria. I lament over the number of dead alders along the creek bottom. All but a few of the holly-leaf cherries that were ripe in abundance along the trail last month are gone. And no more hollyleaf redberries.

Non-native lily near cabin foundation along Fish Canyon Trail, Angeles National Forest
Occasionally I encounter other hikers coming and going. Most of those I talk with are here for the first time. I encourage them to come back in the spring when the canyon is beautiful. At the cabin foundation in the tree of heaven jungle, a beautiful lily greets me. I had heard a report that it was here a couple weeks ago. It looks like an amaryllis of some kind, and presumably planted by cabin dwellers many years ago. In my dozens of hikes in Fish Canyon over the years, I’ve never seen them. Always fun to discover new things.

Traveling north on Fish Canyon Trail, Angeles National Forest
At 8:34 I step into the sunlight for the first time. The light adds vibrancy to the setting. The beauty of Fish Canyon in August comes as one lifts the eyes beyond the weedy, parched plants along the trail and gazes upon the rugged expanse of chaparral-covered canyon walls, upon the leaves of big-leaf maple and poison oak turning to their fall colors, upon bugs, blue sky, and fascinating displays of rocks, and inhaling the wonderful aroma of bay and sage. View north on Fish Canyon Trail toward the rugged canyon walls, Angeles National Forest

Arriving at the spiral staircase where the trial crew recently created a switchback to circumvent it, I am disappointed that someone has shortcut the switchback and destroyed habitat. I am delighted to see water still flowing from the Darlin’ Donna stream. I attempt the side jaunt to Darlin’ Donna Falls but decide not to destroy a beautiful spider web that blocks the path. The increase of graffiti along the trail is disheartening.

Rare Dudleya densiflora on Fish Canyon Trail, Angeles National Forest
9:08 - Main creek crossing. It’s bone dry. I stop to appreciate the rare Dudleya densiflora. It is past its bloom and the dried inflorescence is a rusty red. I am still curious about the large clearing that was carved out here and I'm miffed that the forest service (Freddie Duncan specifically) has not responded to my two email inquiries. Tiny blossoms of common eucrypta, leafy daisy, and small wirelettuce get lost in the virtually flowerless summer canyon. There is an eerie silence as I approach the falls.

Dan Simpson at bone dry Fish Canyon Falls, Angeles National Forest, August 23, 2015
9:35 - Fish Canyon Falls. A huge dry rock face stands in front of me in full sun. The lighting feels different to me with the angle of the sun since I’ve visited the falls only once before in August. I muse over standing here last month in the pouring rain. The falls and upper pool are completely dry today, Bone dry Fish Canyon Falls, Angeles National Forest, August 23, 2015 which I anticipated since they were nearly dry last month. The lower pool is shallow with green, stagnate water. Lower pool at Fish Canyon Falls, Angeles National Forest, August 23, 2015 Two young men and a young lady are here. They are from Orange County and it’s the young men’s first time here. I encourage them to come back in the spring when the canyon is simply beautiful.

Others come and go. I have many fond memories here and reflect on the popular Vulcan access days of the past when crowds at the falls were like the mall at Christmastime. I explore around falls and just enjoy the setting and good conversations.

Heading south toward Old Cheezer Mine on Fish Canyon Trial, Angeles National Forest
11:32 - Leave falls (where do two hours go!?). My pace is earnest as I retrace my steps. The canyon is in full sun now and getting warm. I snap pics of some flowering plants that I didn’t see on the way up. The botanic narrative for the day is quite subdued. Aside from the abundant buckwheat, most of the plants in bloom are single or few occurrences and some have merely a single blossom. Hikers are still coming up the trail. Most are dripping with sweat under the hot sun. It still puzzles me why someone would be hiking in this parched canyon midday in middle summer (aside for the scientific reason for me being here). Savvy outdoors people learn to mind the seasons.

Owl along Fish Canyon Trial, Angeles National Forest
As I get near the end of the trail, I notice a small bird making a lot of noise and flittering around a tree below in the creek bed. And to my delight, I spot a large owl in the tree. Zoomed in view of owl along Fish Canyon Trial, Angeles National Forest Wow! I am curious if the little bird is alerting others to the presence of this predator. I saw an owl for the first time in Fish Canyon in May and wonder if this is the same one.

Heading south on Fish Canyon access trail through Vulcan Materials’ Azusa Rock quarry
I cross the bridge to the Vulcan access trail at 12:23 and wander through the sun-drenched quarry. It’s hot now and I’m ready to be done.

12:38 - End hike. It’s about 87 degrees but feels hotter. There are 11 cars in the lot.

Epilog - What an enjoyable outing. It is enriching to experience Fish Canyon through the seasons. There is always something new. Despite the summer blight, nature has beauty for those who look for it. I’m eager to see what September offers in Fish Canyon. icon

Canyon dudleya on Fish Canyon Trail, Angeles National Forest Plants in Bloom by order of occurrence
(1 B) = 1 blossom total hike
(1 O) = number of occurrences
     (usually multiple blossoms for each)
California buckwheat (abundant)
golden yarrow (1 B)
wild Canterbury bells (1 O)
redstem filaree (1 B)
scarlet monkeyflower (1 O)
common sunflower
cliff aster
chicory-leaved stephanomeria (2 O)
oleander
lily (looks like an amaryllis)
morning glory (1 O)
elderberry
wishbone bush (2 O)
felt-leaf everlasting (3 O)
red-gland spurge (2 O)
mustard (1 B)
canyon sweet pea (1 B)
agave
western thistle (1 O)
pampas grass (1 O)
common eucrypta (1 O)
leafy daisy (1 O)
small wirelettuce (1 O)
chamise (1 B)
California fuchsia (1 O)
toyon (2 O)
mugwart (1 O)
creek monkeyflower (1 O)
canyon dudleya (1 B)
Plants See Plants in Fish Canyon at Dan's Hiking Pages
(including links to various plant resources)

Facebook icon Like Fish Canyon Falls Facebook Page

See Fish Canyon Falls Hike Description at Dan's Hiking Pages (including a link list for my other blog posts for Fish Canyon)

Plants See Plants in Fish Canyon at Dan's Hiking Pages
(including links to various plant resources)

icon  See Waterfalls of The San Gabriels at Dan's Hiking Pages


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