We have been very, very slack in our hiking lately. Its really shameful. Last Sunday, we tried to find our way back. We normally scoff at 10 and 12 mile hikes as with thousands of feet of elevation change; last weekend, we barely topped 2 miles.
This isn’t for lack of trying. The Station Fire, according to the media has laid waste to 160,000 acres of our playground, the Angeles National Forest which is essentially the San Gabriel Mountains. From where we are, the burn doesn’t look so dramatic, so we are anxious to get up there to survey the damage. We decided to grab our favorite hiking guides and our maps and head as far in as we could get before we were stopped. We didn’t get very far. We did see some burned out post-apoctalyptic landscapes in the distance, but nothing that anyone living in Southern California for a while hasn’t seen before. Fires are a part of life here just like earthquakes and avocados.
We didn’t expect the roads to be closed here. We continued around the northernmost range of the San Gabriels in hopes to find our way up a fire road for a peak. All roads into the forest were blocked and it looked serious. We continued to drive East to the Devil’s Punchbowl, a natural sincline that we have hiked more often than any other local site. The fire was one entire range away, so we figured we would at least head out to the Devil’s Chair, one of our favorite spots. The geology around these rock formations is dramatic and exiting. Everywhere you look there is evidence of fault activity. The San Andreas runs directly underfoot here and makes for some lovely desert terrain.
When we arrive at our home trail, so to speak, we throw on our packs and walk to the nature center as we always do, only to be greeted with a sign that informed us that, ” ALL TRAILS CLOSED.” Damn. We walk inside and inquire as to when our playground, the Mojave Desert’s backyard oasis, my church will re-open and the 5d Mark II wielding attendant stated that it was up to the U.S. Forest Service and there was no possible way to know when they’d open it again. “It could be a day, it could be months.” We started to speculate hopefully that it could’nt have burned everything. The trails here must be closed because they don’t have the personnel for a search and rescue operation, right? The map of the burn read like a laundry list of our favorite mountains and hiking trails. They always have a rattlesnake, an owl or a tarantula along with other flora and fauna for the public. There was a Boy Scout group there, taunting the rattler who sound like he couldn’t possibly rattle any faster or louder to get his point across. Ruth, the barn owl, was there as she was last time so we said hello.
We retreated to the valley floor and away from the San Gabriels, leaving the USFS to its work. We ended up at Saddleback Butte State Park. California State Parks are terribly underfunded and usually in some form of disrepair, but this park is an exception. It is merely desert with an unattractive tiny mountain with a little over 2 miles of trail and surround by a smattering of camp sites. The trail leads to Little Butte, which feels more like a pulpit with a million fanatic followers all named Joshua Tree. The place is damn near unusable for a large portion of the year simply because the heat could kill you. On this day, just before sunset, it was beautiful.