Sunday, September 20, 2015

Fish Canyon Falls Hike - September 20, 2015

Dan Simpson at dry Fish Canyon Falls, Angeles National Forest, September 20, 2015
In continuing my monthly hikes to Fish Canyon Falls for a year, I hit the trail on this blistering hot day in a month that people should avoid hiking here. We had a good rain on Tuesday, so I was curious as to how that affected the canyon. I had heard from a gentleman who hiked to the falls the day after the rain, and he said the falls were still dry. So I have realistic expectations.

Being without a car today, I walk to the trailhead, about 2.3 miles from my home in Azusa. I arrive at Vulcan’s gate a few minutes before 7 a.m. One car is there and two more pull up. The guard opens the gate promptly by 7 and I enter the trailhead parking lot along with the three cars.

Start of Fish Canyon access trail in Vulcan Materials’ Azusa Rock quarry
7:07 AM - Begin hike. Temps are already in the upper 70s and are a portent of the heat to come. As I walk through the quarry, I scan the west wall and appreciate that Vulcan has met the August deadline for the first phase of the reclamation and removing the large mining benches (there was a good article in the Tribune this week about it). There is nothing in bloom except for common sunflower and a few lingering cream-colored blossoms of California buckwheat as most of its flowers have turned rust red.

Streamside setting along Fish Canyon Trail, Angeles National Forest
7:33 - Cross the bridge into the national forest. The creek is bone dry. The canyon is peaceful and birds are chirping. I take my time strolling along observing the plants and trail conditions. The recent rain has washed the vegetation from the months of accumulated dust. The rain also washed debris onto the trail in some places. There is a little water in the creek in some places far below. Dead grass and other weedy plants like mustard line the trail. I uproot a lot of the young castor bean plants which are growing along the trail; they are non-native weeds which can be invasive. It feels strange that there is nothing in bloom aside from an occasional sunflower.

View toward Old Cheezer Mine site along Fish Canyon Trail, Angeles National Forest
As I approach the Old Cheezer Mine site something is amiss. It looks different. Oh, the large alder (aka the “Dan tree”) that died this past year has fallen and the view from the trail toward Old Cheezer has opened up. It’s sad to lose mature trees. I keep wondering if the invasive cape ivy has anything to do with it.

At 8:26 I meet the three young men who started the hike when I did and are on their way back. We chat for a few minutes. At 8:29 I step into the first direct sun. Last month it was 8:34. Good to know that the earth still revolves around the sun on its tilted axis and seasons come and go. This is the last weekend of summer as Wednesday, September 23 is the fall equinox and the introduction to autumn.

Big-leaf maple turning their fall colors along Fish Canyon Trail, Angeles National Forest
Leaves of the big-leaf maple are turning their fall colors, as is much of the poison oak. I add to the blooming list a couple occurrences of California fuchsia and single occurrences each of chicory-leaved stephanomeria and leafy daisy. I stop and observe a large bird making a curious sound atop a tall dead tree. I have no idea what kind of bird it is. I take the side jaunt to Darlin’ Donna Falls and it is flowing nicely. Most trail users walk right by the side path without knowing these falls are here (which is unfortunate on a hot day like this when they would probably enjoy at least a small waterfall as a reward for their efforts drugging through a parched canyon).

Dry creek crossing on Fish Canyon Trail, Angeles National Forest
9:06 - The main creek crossing is bone dry. As I pass the site of the main population of the rare Dudleya densiflora, it is the same as last month, past its bloom and the dried inflorescence is a rusty red. The coffee fern that I observed last month as dead has come back to life with the recent rain. The spike moss (resurrection plant) at various places along the trail has been resurrected to vibrant green as well. I’ve still not got a reply from the forest service regarding the large area that has been cleared away here.

Hikers on Fish Canyon Trail near the Dudleya densiflora site, Angeles National Forest
A group of five passes me heading to the falls. My pace is leisurely as I soak in the rugged beauty around us. I think the monthly hikes have gradually acclimated me to the dead grasses and weedy plants, withering vegetation, heat, and the dry water courses of summer. It probably would be quite a shock if one’s last hike here was in gorgeous March or April then to step into this parched scene. As I approach the falls, they stand silent with some human voices reverberating off the sheer rock walls.

Dan Simpson at Fish Canyon Falls, Angeles National Forest, September 20, 2015. title=
9:34 - Fish Canyon Falls (almost the exact time I arrived last month: 9:35). The main falls and pool are mostly in direct sun while the lower pools and rock areas are still in the shade. The moss on the falls face is a little wet now and dripping, in contrast to being bone dry last month. The main pool is dry except for the deep section right next to the rock face.

Fish Canyon Falls, Angeles National Forest, September 20, 2015
The lower pool is shallow and stagnant. The bugs are pesky and I put on more repellent. I would love to see Mabell and Jesse tracked down and one of them punished for his or her criminal vandalism in a national forest/monument. There are a few others lingering here. I chat with some. Hikers come and go but the number of visitors is quite thin, as it should be on a blistering day in September!

Walking south on Fish Canyon Trail, Angeles National Forest
11:05 - Leave falls. My pace is more determined now as the hot sun bears down on me. Occasionally I encounter others coming up the trail, dripping with sweat. Most of those who I’ve talked with today are here for the first time and some came from as far as Long Beach and Orange County. Many had no idea how dry and hot it would be and that the falls would be waterless. I encourage them to come back in March or April to experience the real beauty of Fish Canyon. It’s always good to mind the seasons.

Walking south on Fish Canyon access trail in Vulcan Materials’ Azusa Rock quarry
I cross the bridge to the Vulcan access trail at 12:22 (almost the exact time I did last month at 12:23). Chat with a young man and women. As I walk through the roasting hot quarry, some hikers are just beginning their hike. I still can’t figure out why people would begin at noon under blistering sun in the worst time of the year to hike through a parched canyon to a dry waterfall. Oh the humanity.

12:47 - End hike. It’s 100 degrees and I’m glad to be done. There are 6 cars in the lot.

Dead yucca along Fish Canyon Trail, Angeles National Forest
Epilog - Another gratifying outing in my beloved Fish Canyon...nice people, healthy exercise, fresh air, splendid trail, rugged canyon, and a continued respect for summer heat. I’m enriched by experiencing the canyon monthly as it morphs through the seasons. A realistic expectation of an off-season romp through a flowerless and parched landscape helps one appreciate the nuances of natural beauty. And I’m thankful that the recent rain washed the vegetation and began to add a hint of fresh life. Autumn, here we come. icon

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2 comments:

  1. We did this hike mid day July 5, 2015. It was pretty hot but nice breeze on the shady side. My daughter and I thought that all the turns and changes of scenery made it like a natural candyland, if that makes any sense.

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