Angeles hike near Station Fire origin


What better way to spend Turkey Day than hiking through habitat burned by one of the largest wildfires in California? No. 12 on the list, to be exact.

We’ve hiked this fire road (ahem) in the Angeles National Forest several times now, and can count on one hand the number of people on the trail. The trailhead is at the Angeles Crest Station, for which the fire was named. And today — more than five years after the fire consumed 161,000 acres — blackened trees still remain.

Five years after the Station Fire, dead trees remain along the trail.

Five years after the Station Fire, dead trees remain along the trail.

Google Earth calls this Mt. Lukens Truck Trail. I’ve never seen this hike listed in any trail guide. It isn’t one of the premier hikes in the San Gabriel Mountains — the trail sign at the start lists destination trails rather than the name of the trail you’re on — but it does lead (seven miles in) to Grizzly Flats and eventually Mt. Lukens, at 5,074 feet the highest point in the city of L.A.

Simply put, this is an easy trail only a few miles up Angeles Crest Highway from La Cañada, and a great hike to do on a clear day, with views stretching to the Pacific. We hiked only about 2.5 miles in and were treated to some great views on T-Day.

Some pix from the hike:


Fall color AND wildflowers on the same hike. You gotta love winter in SoCal.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA One of the brief, rare moments Blue was off-leash:


Love this old sign at the trailhead:


Whaddya mean I have to stay on-leash?


More dead trees. Thankfully, no dreaded poodledog bush on this trail:


The path we took, minus a section where I forgot to restart my MotionX app, oops:

Angeles Crest track

A more modern (but not much) sign at the trailhead:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWant to know more about the Station Fire? It was “human-caused” BTW, and the arsonist was never caught. The GAO did a report here, and the interactive map on p. 10 is worth checking out.


Last of the SoCal fall color….and a great wildlife sighting

Blue Ridge trail leaves

Better late than never. After skipping our annual fall color trip to the Eastern Sierra, we instead squeaked in a short trek in the Angeles National Forest in late October. Fall color in the San Gabriel Mountains is a sad substitute for blazing aspens in the Sierra, but you gotta take what you can get. And for all you non-SoCal doubters: yes, there are trees with leaves that change color here.

We headed into the Angeles High Country to hike the Blue Ridge Trail, an easy 4.4-mile roundtrip right near Mountain High Ski Resort (doubters: yes, there are ski resorts in Southern California. See the runs in the Google Earth image below?) that provides some of the best views in the San Gabriels. And, for those who think SoCal’s only wildlife is black bears lounging in suburban swimming pools, keep reading.

Blue Ridge trail

Sandwiched between Mountain High East and West, the trailhead is across the Angeles Crest Highway from the forest’s Big Pines Visitor Center — which is usually closed due to budget constraints.

The path winds along a slope covered with oaks and Jeffrey pines, which transitions to white fir and lodgepole pine as you climb higher. It’s an easy hike, but you’ll notice the 7,000-foot elevation.

A bench marks the halfway point of the trail:

Blue/Blue Ridge bench

The ground was littered with leaves that had already fallen, but some shrubs and oaks still held color. Two miles and 950 feet of gain later, the trail ends at a campground where it bisects the Pacific Crest Trail. A stroll along the fire road leads to one of Mountain High’s lifts, and you’re treated to glorious views of Mt. Baldy and Mt. Baden-Powell.

Top of Blue Ridge Trail

View towards Mt. Baldy, from the top of the Blue Ridge Trail.

Blue/Blue Ridge summit

The view toward Mt. Baden-Powell, at the top of the Blue Ridge Trail.

Blue/Mt. High lift

Some of us can’t wait to get a paw on the chairlift at Mountain High.

But the best part of our day in the Angeles happened on the way home. We’ve always wondered why so many rocks litter Angeles Crest Highway at this far eastern end of the forest, and now we know. As we passed Dawson Saddle, we were treated to two bighorn sheep skittering down a near-vertical slope, which rained loose rock onto the road.

We’d heard there’s a good chance of seeing these guys in that area, but had never seen them until then. At one time, the San Gabriel population of desert bighorn numbered 740, the largest in California. They took a big hit from mountain lion predation, along with other stresses, and now number about 400. The two we saw appeared to be a male and female, who trotted back up the slope when they saw us, then back down over a ridge, across Highway 2, over the guard rail and onto the next canyon.

A nice sunset with fog moving in completed our happy fall day in the Angeles:

Angeles fog




San Gabriel Mountains National Monument: The big cave-in

The Bridge to Nowhere spanning the East Fork San Gabriel River. Photo courtesy of

The Bridge to Nowhere spanning the East Fork San Gabriel River. Photo courtesy of

I”m not sure that’ll be the new monument’s official title, but the word on the street is that when President Obama is in SoCal on Friday, before or after breaking bread with Gwyneth Paltrow, he’ll be declaring part of the San Gabriel Mountains a national monument. Wait a minute — what happened to making them part of a national recreation area??

Here’s what happened: because the national recreation area designation would require congressional approval — which at the rate they’re going could take the better part of a century — Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-El Monte), who drafted the recreation area proposal, decided to take the easier route and shoot for national monument status.

Problem with the monument alternative is the mountains would remain under the auspices of the U.S. Forest Service, not the National Park Service, as it would have been if it received the national recreation area designation. And any user of the Angeles National Forest knows what a bang-up job the USFS has done. Sure, the forest is strapped for dough, especially having to fork over truckloads of cash to fight fires. And a 700,000-acre forest with 3 million visitors a year isn’t easy to care for. But both the East and West Forks of the San Gabriel River are pretty disgraceful, to give just one example.

Local flyfishing group the Pasadena Casting Club has been pushing for Wild & Scenic River designation for the West Fork and its tributaries, and is against the national monument, unlike other conservation groups like Trout Unlimited. They point out that while Rep. Chu will still seek a national recreation area bill, national monument status in the meantime is an inferior alternative. Funding will be at a much lower level and would not result in new recreation services or lighten the pressure of the overused forest, since the USFS is chronically short of funds and what it does get goes to fighting fires.

Don’t get me wrong — there are many fabulous trails and vistas in the San Gabriels, especially at the western end. And hopefully the San Gabriel River will get Wild & Scenic protection at some point. It’s just unclear exactly how creating a national monument would make a lick of difference. Is the graffiti and trash in the East Fork area all of a sudden going to disappear? Truly a monumental challenge.

Calling all fisher folk: Upgrade your gear at Orvis!

Actually, from 2012. What appears to be a hybrid golden trout near Johnston Lake.

What appears to be a hybrid golden trout near Johnston Lake near Mammoth Lakes, 2012.

Here’s a great deal for all you SoCal fly fishers out there…donate your old, useable fly fishing equipment (rods, reels, waders, boots) and get a 20% discount on new fishing products at the Pasadena Orvis store’s Upgrade Your Gear Night….tonight! Time to trade up to that new Helios rod!

The event is tonight, Sept. 25, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Another great deal: donate a canned good and receive a 20% discount on full-priced clothing. Folks, that includes those gorgeous Barbour jackets and the new women’s line of Prana clothing. Meow.

Donations will benefit the Southwest Council Federation of Fly Fishers, and a local homeless shelter. The Southwest Council has done a lot of good for fly fishing and conservation — stream cleanups and surveys in the L.A. area and Eastern Sierra, education, and working with disabled veterans and wounded active duty military.

For the gear swap, the equipment has to be useable. No fractured fly rods, like the ones I demolished last year. Upcycle those to hold up your tomatoes.

The Orvis Pasadena store is at 345 South Lake Avenue, at the corner of Lake and Del Mar. Happy swapping!

Grizzly’s return to California’s Sierra?

Grizzly bear photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Grizzly bear photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

As the keeper of a blog about the western U.S., West-centric would be remiss to ignore the recent hubbub over a proposal to reintroduce grizzly bears to California’s Sierra Nevada, among other spots in the West. I don’t have a strong opinion either way. Frankly, I think it would be kind of cool to have another apex predator in the state, and boy would it clear out the most popular trails…in a big way!

However, what I’d like to say to the Center for Biological Diversity, which came up with the plan, is….really? It’s such an outrageous idea that I frankly think it’s just a way for the nonprofit conservation group to draw attention to U.S. Fish & Wildlife’s recovery plan for the grizz, which the Center thinks isn’t doing enough to protect the bears and expand their range.

Grizz sticker

Yes, grizzlies were abundant in California at one time — some estimate as many as 10,000 in the state’s early days — and the last one was killed in Tulare County in 1922. One still ambles across the state flag.

But the state is far more populated now, with scads of recreation lovers hiking and fishing the Sierra. Can you imagine hiking the John Muir Trail, or fishing the Kern River, and needing to carry bear spray? Or something even more powerful? I did recently see someone on the trail between Horseshoe Lake and McLeod Lake in the Mammoth Lakes basin carrying a bear spray canister, which was odd. Maybe he saw the Center’s proposal and was getting a head start.

The Sierra isn’t the only area of the West where the Center for Biological Diversity hopes to reintroduce ursus arctos horribilis. In its legal petition proposing to return grizzlies to their original range, the group identifies 110,000 square miles of potential grizzly habitat in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. Once abundant in those spots, grizzlies were gone by the 1940s.

Current grizzly populations are a fraction of what they once were — from 100,000 in their heyday to a mere 1,500 or so today, and only in five areas: the Yellowstone, Northern Continental Divide, Cabinet-Yaak, Selkirk and Northern Cascades ecosystems.

With such shrunken range and fragmented habitat, more clearly needs to be done to protect these magnificent predators. And as admirable as the grizzly proposal is, I just don’t think it’s practical in a place like California. And I don’t know which grizzly species is intended for reintroduction, since the California sub-species ursus californicus, which roamed valleys and foothills rather than high elevations, is extinct.

Anyone who’s spent time in the outdoors in places like Glacier National Park knows what it’s like to hike and fish in grizzly country. Want an investment tip? Bear spray canister companies. You can’t bring them on airplanes, so that canister you bought for a dayhike in Montana or Wyoming is staying behind. And the consequences can be serious: a researcher from Utah in Wyoming’s Wind Rivers was recently killed by a bear, possibly a grizzly.

Wildlife reintroduction is a pretty fascinating topic. Living among large predators like bears and wolves is what makes the West such a special place, after all. But can we all safely co-exist? Interested in joining the conversation? The online forums Yosemite News and High Sierra Topix have both addressed the grizzly issue.

Sierra backpack to East Lake


Casting near camp at East Lake

Weary of watching lawns turn brown and flowers wilt, we decided in mid-August that it was time to hit the Sierra. But, worried about how California’s mega drought had affected the high country, we wondered: Would our beloved streams and lakes be too low to fish, or even dried up?

I’m happy to report that there was plenty of green grass, blue water and even some wildflowers in the Hoover Wilderness backcountry, especially above 10,000 feet. No doubt the monsoon-season storms earlier in the month helped.

This was our second backpack to the Hoover, which borders the northeast part of Yosemite National Park and rises from the Great Basin to the crest of the Sierra. With a new dog in tow — our rescue pit mix Blue, who undoubtedly had never camped under the stars — we decided on a short backpack along the Green Creek Trail to East Lake, about 4.5 miles from the trailhead.


Blue prepares to hit the trail

So on a warm mid-week day, we headed out from the trailhead, located at the end of nine miles of the bumpy dirt that is Green Creek Road, off Interstate 395, about five miles south of Bridgeport. Blue was happy to hit the trail, not at all seeming to mind toting some cooking supplies — and two cans of beer — in her doggie backpack.

The trail climbs gradually and is very rocky in spots, something to keep in mind when hiking with canines. We brought dog booties but Blue was a trouper and didn’t need them. We ascended to Green Lake at just over two miles, right after a turnoff to West Lake — a less-frequently visited destination 1.5 steep miles away that we’ll save for another trip.

We kept going another 2.5 miles to East Lake, and the trail was alternately sunny and shaded by pine, hemlock and aspen. With so much aspen, especially at the start of the trail, I think this would be a great day hike in the fall. The trail crosses Green Creek several times, which was easy going with the water so low.


Blue contemplating her shadow at East Lake campsite

Without much intel on where to camp at East Lake — and no obvious spots to pitch a tent when we arrived — finding a site was a bit of a challenge. Luckily we ran into backpackers who were coming out and tipped us off to a peninsula on the northeast end of the lake. The site we eventually chose had great views of the lake and Epidote (10,951 feet) and Park Peaks.

Getting to and from the site from the trail took a bit of rockhopping and was a navigation challenge, but lake access and views made it worth it. At 9,462 feet, campfires aren’t allowed at East Lake (no fires over 9,000 feet), so we had to stick to the camping stove — but we saw plenty of abandoned illegal fire rings. We ended up moving to a more choice — tho windy — spot after the first night, spending two more nights with open-sky views and even better water access. At night we were treated to the tail end of the Perseid meteor shower, with the Milky Way spreading across the entire sky.

We took a day hike to small but scenic Nutter Lake, a short distance from East, where I caught (but was unable photograph, darn) and released a 14-inch rainbow on a size 16 ant fly fished just below the surface…first fish on my brand-new Orvis Battenkill III reel. The next day we trekked three miles to Summit Lake, a beauty at 10,184 feet, on the boundary of Yosemite.

Hoover Lakes

The trail to Summit Lake passes the Hoover Lakes

Wildflowers lined the trail, but I got the sense that we were about a month too late for the full bloom — which happened early this year because of the drought. Still, we saw spotty clumps that included Indian paintbrush, larkspur, purple aster, lupine and owl’s clover, among others. The extremely scenic hike to Summit passes Nutter, Gilman and Hoover Lakes — where it was windy and small brook trout were abundant.


Hoover Lake brookie

Summit Lake was also windy — but beautiful — and the fishing was fruitless. We scanned the hillsides for bighorn sheep, which are apparently fairly common here, but didn’t see any.

Summit Lake

Not a fish in sight at windy Summit Lake

We stopped at the sign marking the entrance to Yosemite National Park at the west end of Summit Lake, but didn’t go any further since dogs aren’t allowed. Which was fine with Blue, who enjoyed a nice sit and a roll:



On the hike back to camp, we were treated to great-light afternoon views, including nice reflections on Gilman Lake:


We headed out on day four, all in all a great trip, with no complaints: lighter packs, no bear encounters, one mosquito bite between the two of us (I can’t speak for Blue) and one worn-out but happy pooch.


For conditions and how to obtain a wilderness permit, contact the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest at (760) 932-7070.


A trio of Central Coast hikes


View from the Bluff Trail at Fiscalini Ranch Preserve

One of these days we’ll hike to the top of Bishop Peak or one of the other volcanic morros near San Luis Obispo. But our recent Central Coast visits kept us closer to the water, and there’s plenty of hiking there too. Here are three that are super easy, and two are dog-friendly: 1. Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, Cambria: It doesn’t get much easier or scenic than the 11 trails winding through this former ranchland owned for a century by the Fiscalini family. The ranch was eventually sold — thankfully spared from development — and turned into a preserve. Just look at the homes around this biologically diverse open space to see what could have been. I don’t (usually) begrudge anyone a seaside residence, but enough was enough in this case. The most popular trails are the unbelievably view-filled Bluff Trail, which, fittingly, runs a mile along the bluff and allows leashed dogs. Marine Terrace Trail parallels it on the inland side (and allows dogs off-leash, but they must not disturb wildlife), so a nice loop hike is to enter from Windsor Boulevard, take the Bluff Trail, and return on Marine Terrace. Trail maps and more info are available at the Friends of the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve web site. Here are some photos to whet your appetite: Several cool benches are located along the Bluff Trail:

Fiscalini bench1 Fiscalini bench2

Bluff Trail views are truly amazing. See what they mean by marine terrace?:

Fiscalini bluff

Blue at Fiscalini

2. Harmony Headlands State Park: Drive north on Highway 1 from Morro Bay and you’ve likely whizzed right past this small state park located about eight miles north of Cayucos. A small parking area on the ocean side of the highway is easy to miss but the park is signed so you’ll know you’re in the right place. The one-mile Headlands Trail leads across grasslands, past an old bunkhouse and eventually to Pacific views. In spring, the hills are vibrant.

Harmony Headlands

Like so much of the open space along the Central Coast, the headlands were once a rancho, eventually sold to cattle ranchers, and yet again the American Land Conservancy intervened to help eventually preserve the land as state park. The park is still surrounded by cattle ranching tho, as hikers are reminded by trail signs. We saw some clumps of California poppies, and in wetter years the hills are awash in wildflowers. I wish I had photos of the ocean views but unfortunately on a trek here last spring I had to cut my hike short in order to check on our Lab who we had to leave in the car (he was fine). Even though it was a cloudy day, it was warm, and, being a state park, dogs aren’t allowed on the trail, so keep that in mind if Fido is along. A map and brochure are available online at the park’s website.

Harmony sign

3. Estero Bluffs State Park: Another easy-to-miss spot just north of Cayucos and west of Highway 1, the Estero Bluffs are a great way to get sweeping views all the way to Morro Bay. You won’t see the sign for this trail until you pull off the highway. The park preserves coastal terraces and intertidal areas, and a seasonal stream bisects an informal trail along the bluff. Dogs are allowed on-leash south of the creek. We saw elephant seals along pocket beaches here, likely stragglers from the Piedras Blancas colony further north. A dead seal attracted a flock of turkey vultures as well. Beware of ticks; our dog Blue (check out her buns of steel below) picked one up here and fortunately we nabbed it before it did any damage. A brochure and trail map can be found here. Snaps from Estero Bluffs: