San Gabriel Mountains National Monument: The big cave-in

The Bridge to Nowhere spanning the East Fork San Gabriel River. Photo courtesy of http://www.stevescamera.com/2012/11/the-infamous-bridge-to-nowhere-along.html

The Bridge to Nowhere spanning the East Fork San Gabriel River. Photo courtesy of http://www.stevescamera.com/2012/11/the-infamous-bridge-to-nowhere-along.html

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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

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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.

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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

Fiscalini:flowers

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:

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Blue’s first Sierra adventure

Blue-San Joaquin

Blue along the Middle Fork San Joaquin River, near Upper Soda Springs Campground.

Guest post from Blue, the pit mix rescue we first heard from in May…

Hi again, everyone. Just wanted to report on an awesome trip I took to this place with really big rocks and lots of water. My folks call it the Sierra Nevada. I call it a bit overwhelming but really cool. The hiking I really dug; the water kind of scared me, frankly.

First we hiked along a big river and stopped a bunch of times so my humans could do this really boring thing called fly-fishing. It’s where you stick a big pole in the water and just stand there. There were lots of great smells so I was on high alert, but boy, watching them do that fishing thing was really dull. The water was cold and fast, so I didn’t get too close but did take a couple drinks and wow did it taste good.

Another day we took a really long walk (note from editor: 3 miles each way along the River Trail out of Agnew Meadows) to a place called Shadow Lake. I was really excited about this hike. It had all the canine requirements: tons of trees to sniff, water to keep an eye on and nice cool temperatures so I didn’t pant too much. Here I am telling everyone which way to go:

Blue-Shadow sign

We walked and walked and walked some more until we got to this part that went back and forth straight uphill. I think they’re called switchbacks. Sometimes there were even stairs built out of rock:

Blue-Shadow steps

You mean I have to climb up those?

When we finally got toward the top I could see a creek and waterfall (scary) that was coming out of Shadow Lake:

Then we got to the lake, which was sooooo pretty. All sparkly and stuff. I got so excited but had no interest in hopping in the water. Very cold. And of course, scary. My humans did some more of that fishing thing:

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Then it was time to head back down. I really don’t understand the whole switchback thing. How come you can’t just run straight across the rocks?

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Here I am on the trail. Yeah, I have that “Don’t mess with me” look, but I’m actually very friendly:

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Anyway, I was really tired that night and didn’t even worry too much about any of the other dog smells and barking back at the condo. That usually gets me really upset but I was so frickin’ tired, I was like, whatever.

The next day it was time to go home, but on the way back we stopped at another cool place called Bishop Creek. My peeps had to yet again do the stick in the water thing (this time fish were actually caught, which I found mildly entertaining). My bro’ Sammy and I just hung out and took a snooze:

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Time to, yawn, plan our next trip.

Lawn care and dog health

Fertilizer pic

Here’s something that drives me nuts: In some neighborhoods here in Southern California, having a perfectly green lawn is a matter of civic pride. But at what cost to our pets?

I’ve had the photo above in my iPhone for awhile now and finally had to share it. How ironic is it that the pesticide manufacturer chose to show a dog on the bag of a lawn-care insecticide product, when studies have linked use of such chemicals with canine cancer?

The primary bug-killing ingredient in this product is bifenthrin, a pyrethroid that is a possible carcinogen. People: is obliterating bugs and having a green lawn worth it when it means possibly sickening your pets? “Protect your lawn from invading bugs”? How about protect your pets from harmful pesticides.

Dogs walking and rolling on treated grass pick up traces of these chemicals. Studies have shown links between risk of canine lymphoma and bladder cancer with certain herbicides and pesticides. And cancer isn’t the only concern. According to the Pesticide Action Network, pyrethroids are listed as possible carcinogens by the EPA, and can affect the central and peripheral nervous system. Poisoning symptoms include muscle tremors, hyperexcitability, depression, ataxia, vomiting, seizures, anorexia and death.

If wiping out bugs and having an emerald green lawn is that important, a group called Pesticide Watch based in Sacramento offers these chemical-free alternatives:

  1. Adjust the pH so that your soil is at peak pH for grass to grow (around 6.5).
  2. Use organic, slow-release fertilizer.
  3. Overseed to encourage more  grass to grow. Spread seed especially in the spring and fall.
  4. Mow high (around 3 inches) to crowd out weeds.

The group also recommends spreading the word about dangerous lawn chemicals by putting “pesticide free” lawn signs up and talking to neighbors about their use of lawn care products. Wind can carry herbicides about 50 feet from the application site, according to an expert at Purdue University, so what your neighbors do can affect your animals’ health. You can read up on canine cancer research at Morris Animal Foundation.

Anyway, sorry for the rant. It’s almost time for manure-on-the-lawn season, another pet peeve (ahem) of mine, so to speak. Time to walk the dog…