Saturday, February 4, 2012

Gabrielino Trail: 17 Bridges Tour

Like a protective arch over Pasadena, the 28-mile Gabrielino trail
begins in the Arroyo Seco just west of the city, climbs 2000+ feet to turn east along the Angeles Crest and climb 1,000+ feet more before plunging south towards the city of Arcadia.

Here at the trailhead in Pasadena, its entrance sign ignores the Gould Mesa campground just two miles ahead and holds out the promise of Oakwilde campground, halfway to the Switzer picnic area on the Angeles Crest Highway.

Literature at the ranger's station describes Oakwilde as having 7 campsites with stoves, plus pit toilets and hitching rails for the horses: so let's take a stroll up the arroyo and see what it looks like, bearing in mind the devastations of the Station Fire and the subsequent floods. ....

Passing the Jet Propulsion Labs (JPL) on the opposite side of the arroyo, we cross what I call the Baroque Bridge, built in an era when bridges were supposed to be not only functional but also expressions of architectural art. But the very next bridge sports wooden planks and danger warnings.
... .

About a mile in we pass by the Lower Brown Mountain road which launches eastward into the foothills, while the El Prieto trail and creek snakes their way along the bottom of a steep canyon. Both of them end at the "Upper" road, also known as the Brown Mountain Fire Road.

Back in the rock n' roll days the Eagles Live album included the song "Seven Bridges Road." By my count, the lower arrroyo has seventeen bridges and/or places where bridges used to be.

For many of these creek crossings, you will need good balance or acceptance of getting your socks wet.

While some of these bridges may be missing due to the recent floods, most of them don't appear to have been in existence for many years.

Gould Mesa campground is a pleasant space with 3 campsites, fire rings, toilets, and trash containers. It is maintained via a service road that climbs up out of the arroyo to the west.

This bridge was taken out when fire burned away its wooden planks.

This new and wonderful horse bridge is a pleasant surprise.

Still more river to cross.


At Paul Little picnic area (below left) the Gabrielino Trail leaves the canyon floor and climbs out on the right, but it's marked as closed, saying "Respect it!"

Following the canyon floor brings us to the Brown Mountain Debris Dam. With all that water falling maybe 60 feet, one would expect a good-sized lake on the other side.
Surprise: it's filled up with dirt and rock.

Climbing the canyon wall (respecting the closed trail, of course) we can get a picture of the situation. Downstream is the rocky creek flowing among trees (above) while looking upstream (below) we see a sandy creek and low brush. But where is Oakwilde Campground? We're stymied: stopped short maybe a mile short of our goal.
Time to get out the map. From the south, marked in red, is the portion of the Gabrieleino trail we've just followed to where we were stopped at the Paul Little picnic area.

From the north, starting at the Switzer picnic area, is the Gabrielino trail going south to Oakwilde, which is circled. One small problem: the ranger tells me that the portion of the trail south of the junction with Bear Canyon is also closed.

From west of Oakwilde there used to be a trail or service road leading up to the highway, but it is also closed, taken out by a landslide many years ago.

What's left? From the east, of course! There's a 3 mile trail marked on the map as the "Ken Burton Trail" which ends at Oakwilde. That trail starts at the end of the 5½ mile Brown Mountain Fire Road, which in turn starts at one of my favorite campgrounds, Millard Canyon.

So if these 8½ miles are passable and we hike them, we should be able to put our eyes on this mysterious "Oakwilde Campground," which from 1911 through 1938 existed as the Old Camp Oak Wilde tourist resort. And that, in fact, is what we will do next, and we'll see it in the next post. Stay Tuned!