Searching for San Pascual…

January 2, 2014 § 17 Comments


Click me!

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been dialoguing via email with a fellow creekfreak about the location of Arroyo San Pascual, which was/is in the Pasadena/San Marino/Alhambra area.  I thought I’d post the maps that explain this location so that everyone can enjoy the info.  For those wishing to cut to the chase – Arroyo San Pascual is the westernmost of the creeks, joining with Mill Creek to create Mission Creek  (aka, I believe, Alhambra Wash) further downstream.  To the east are smaller creeks, including one that once fed the pond (Kewen Lake) that has since been filled for, um, lawn, at Lacy Park in San Marino.  Jane Tsong covered the topic of the arroyos and fascinating geology of this area in depth (here 1, 2) – so I’m going to stick to the maps.

To the left, a federal survey from 1870 which actually gave us some creek names.  (when I have a moment I’ll scan and post the entire survey so you can see the rest)  To the right, a screen shot of the creek layer I created several years back in GIS, which when imported as kmz files in GoogleEarth has a standing flaw of being offset slightly.  The discerning eye can see echoes of the historical streams in the treelines, shadows of terrain, (in)convenient siting of ball fields… correlation of course not being causation.  The arrows are meant to call that out for you, imagine those blue lines shifted slightly to the left.  Happy creekfreaking, if you get inspired to tour to the topography, let us know what you find out!

Creek Freaks tour historic San Marino canyon creeks

November 9, 2011 § 11 Comments

The four L.A. Creek Freak blog writers: Jessica Hall, Joe Linton, Joshua Link, and Jane Tsong.

Earlier this week was a rare coming together of all four L.A. Creek Freak authors: Jessica Hall, Joshua Link, Jane Tsong, and Joe Linton. We all know each other, and run into each other at various functions, and keep in contact… but I think it may be the first time that all four of us spent good creek-freek time together. We’ve all contributed to this post – Joe did the compilation, so I’ve tried to weave and acknowledge… and any errors are mine.

The occasion was a private tour of some of the historic creeks and canyons in the city of San Marino, and the adjacent southern border of the city of Pasadena. Our expert guide was Alan Jutzi, Avery Chief Curator of Rare Books at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens. Alan is the curator for the Huntington’s upcoming show Water Began It All, which Jane is designing. She wrote about here earlier. Water Began It All is open weekends November 19th, 2011, through February 18th, 2012 at the Flora-Legium in the Botanical Center. As Jane described, the show features the work of Michael Hart, who’s an artist but better known for running the Sunny Slope Water Company, located in Pasadena and the San Gabriel Valley. Hart is responsible for using existing landscape and historical documents to map out these canyons, creeks, zanjas and more. Michael Hart’s prints, including exquisitely detailed maps (much better than the roughly mapped google map below) will be available for purchase in the Huntington bookstore.

Hart’s work was reviewed in last week’s L.A. Times Lost L.A. column by Sam Watters. The article is a good creek-freak read, and includes Hart’s piece, Old Mill in San Marino, a location that  featured prominently in the tour this post describes below.

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News and Events – 8 January 2011

January 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

Act now to save Arcadia's threatened oaks! Photo by ecotonestudios


> If you haven’t read Josh’s article yesterday about the urgency of action to prevent the county’s astonishingly wrong-headed plans for burying Arcadia’s oak woodlands – read it and take action! Demolition is scheduled to begin next week. Here’s a set of links of  yesterday’s blogger solidarity day post to save this irreplaceable site: Altadena Hiker, ArcadiaPatchBallona BlogBipedality, Breathing TreatmentChance of Rain, Echoes, Greensward CivitasL.A. Creek Freak, L.A. Eco-Village, L.A. ObservedPasadena AdjacentPasadena Daily Photo, Pasadena Real Estate with Brigham Yen, Slow Water!, The Sky is Big in Pasadena, Temple City Daily Photo and Weeding Wild Suburbia. Thanks also to Sierra Madre Tattler!

> Oiled Wildlife Care Network reports an oil spill in the Dominguez Channel on December 22nd 2010. Their team “recovered three oiled birds:  one Pied-billed grebe, which died, and two American Coots.”  As of January 4th, OWCN reports that  “no responsible party has been identified, and the source of the spill remains unknown.” Full story at link.

> ArroyoLover reports on the drawbacks (pun intended) of new archery range fencing proposed for Pasadena’s Lower Arroyo Seco Nature Park.

> L.A.’s Daily News reports a Shadow Hills incident where a “car raced downhill, bouncing over speed bumps before brushing by horse and rider, spooking them to the curb. [The horse was] injured [and ultimately perished] when she became trapped in a storm drain debris screen[…]. The driver did not stop.” Interestingly the article calls for changes to the storm drain trash grates, but seems to let the criminal speeding driver off the hook. Full story at link.

> If you think L.A.’s La Niña rains were bad, read Circle of Blue‘s reports on disastrous El Niño rains in Colombia and Venezuela.

> The Los Angeles Times has an impressive photo of water churning through the San Gabriel Dam during recent tests. Also at L.A. Times: environmentalists file suit to block Newhall Ranch development imperiling the Santa Clara River. And, further afield, plans for the future health of the Klamath River.

> The Project For Public Spaces has an extensive conference proceedings document that serves as a sort of handbook for waterfront design/place-making. Their top recommendations (as distilled by me) are: multiple destinations, connected by trails for walking and bicycling.

Drastic Declines in World Fisheries - New York Times via Cyborg Vegan Cannibals

>Cyborg Vegan Cannibals has two scary graphs on the precipitous decline of world fisheries. One above and the other at the link. Maybe it’s time to watch Dan Barber’s video again. (Thanks to TrueLoveHealth for sharing the CVC link!)


> The city of Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation hosts a Low Impact Development update on Thursday January 20th 2011 at 1pm at their Media Center Offices. Details at L.A. Stormwater Blog.

Deciding Hahamongna’s fate. Again.

July 7, 2010 § 12 Comments

"The original bridge over the site of the Devil's Gate Dam. As of 1987, there is no longer a reservoir. The site may be seen from Highway 210, north of the Arroyo Seco and south of Jet Propulsion Laboratory." 1920. Source: LAPL, Photo: 00017346

We’ve touched on this before, but today is a day of blogger solidarity to protect Hahamongna in its current state. The Pasadena City Council will meet on Monday, July 12, to vote on whether or not to place soccer fields within this natural park that contains a now rare thing in the greater LA area: oak woodlands and riparian and wetland habitat.

Details for the meeting:

Monday, July 12, 6:30-8:30pm; at 100 North Garfield Avenue, Pasadena, CA

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Soccer at Hahamongna?

April 21, 2010 § 3 Comments

Aerial view of Hahamongna. Photo from (and linked to) Arroyo Seco Foundation website.

Once again, active recreation and our dwindling natural resources are being pitted against each other.  This time, it’s at Hahamongna, a basin on the Arroyo Seco next to JPL.  Devil’s Gate Dam holds back the Arroyo’s flows, infiltrating some of them into the Raymond Basin, the aquifer that supplies a lot of Pasadena’s water.  Above ground, wetlands and oak woodlands abound, a rare finger of habitat extending down from the San Gabriel Mountains.

Should soccer be carved out of this? « Read the rest of this entry »

News and Events – 17 February 2010

February 17, 2010 § Leave a comment


>The L.A. County Bicycle Master Plan Bicycle Advisory Committee meets tonight Thursday February 17th at 7pm at the Board Overflow Room at Metro. The county bike plan, which Creek Freak outlined here, includes bike paths along county-maintained rivers, washes and creeks. There’s also a series of ten county bike plan community meetings running February 22nd through March 25th, held in various locations all over the county. For more info on all these, go to the meeting page on the county’s bike plan website.  

County photo of the vacant under-freeway right-of-way along the Arroyo Seco. View is looking northeast toward Avenue 26, with the Arroyo Seco channel just out of the picture to the left. Avenue 26 is across the middle of the image with the Avenue 26 Bridge in middle left. Freeway ramp connecting southbound 110 to northbound 5 is on the right.

>Los Angeles County is proposing a new scope for the funded Arroyo Seco Bike Path project. The new plan is to build the next phase along the southeast bank of the arroyo from Avenue 26 to San Fernando Road. This scales back a proposed ~1.5-mile bike path (from Avenue 43 to Avenue 26) to an ~0.3-mile bike and walk path, but the less ambitious new scope appears more likely to actually get built. The newly proposed stretch would be located in a right-of-way that is currently mostly empty space (below the interchange of the 5 and the 110 freeways) but also includes a portion of a city of L.A. Bureau of Sanitation yard. The county hosts a project meeting tomorrow Thursday February 18th at 6pm at the Los Angeles River Center. Check out the county’s 9-page background report, with photos and a map and L.A. Creek Freak’s earlier article on the conflicts over the earlier proposed bike path(Thanks Arroyo Seco Foundation for posting the county’s documents on-line.)

>Same night as the Arroyo Seco meeting, the city of Glendale hosts a public input meeting for its Glendale Narrows River Walk project. It’s Thursday February 18th at 7pm at the Pacific Community Center.

>C.I.C.L.E.’s creek freak bike ride is this Saturday February 20th, departing 12:30pm from the River Center. Rain cancels, and some is predicted for early Saturday – check the site that morning around 9am to confirm that the ride is on.

>State Assembly Speaker Karen Bass hosts a Ballona Creek clean-up event on Sunday February 21st at 10am at Overland Avenue.

> The city of Pasadena Bicycle Master Plan is also underway. The current draft  proposes bike paths along the Arroyo Seco (near Jet Propulsion Laboratory) and along Eaton Wash (from Eaton Canyon Nature Center to the 210 Freeway.) Pasadena will hold a public input meeting on their draft plan on Tuesday February 23rd at 6:30pm at City Council Chambers.


>Live “streaming” on the Arroyo Seco, and a dozen other California streams, via USGS (In the Watershed)

An Artesian Belt in San Gabriel: Part II

January 6, 2010 § 10 Comments

This 1904 map shows a slender stream forming in the upper end of San Marino Canyon. Vegetation is labelled as "oaks" and "brush thicket". This item reproduced by permission of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

This is part two of a posting that describes the Artesian Belt in San Gabriel from West to East. For the introduction to this section, click here.

Grading and Draining: the transformation of the Shorb Ranch

The property we know as the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, was once part of the famed ranch of J. De Barth Shorb, named San Marino. We are fortunate that relatively detailed documentation of the property has been preserved, giving us an intimate view of shifts in land use during the intervening century. « Read the rest of this entry »

News and Events – 6 January 2010

January 6, 2010 § Leave a comment


>Heal the Bay executive director Mark Gold’s Spouting Off blog  has an excellent 2-part series called Memo to Antonio – outlining a progressive environmental/water agenda for L.A. in the year ahead. To read it, click here1 and here2. Gold’s recommendations include many of L.A. Creek Freak’s favorite topics: Low Impact Development (LID),  Stream Protection, improved Water Quality and more! TreePeople’s Andy Lipkis also recently weighed in on LID.

>The San Gabriel River has newly completed guerilla landscaping – in Pico Rivera. Shade of Ernie’s Walk and Portland City Repair!

Trash boom on Ballona Creek - yeeech! Photo from the South Los Angeles Report

>The South Los Angeles Report tells about teaching science using the story of trash in L.A. waterways and in the Pacific Ocean. Read and watch their findings here.

>The city of Pasadena is working with neighbors to preserve and improve Annandale Canyon – which is nestled in between West Pasadena and Eagle Rock. More information here. (Thanks to Meredith ArroyoLover McKenzie – also read her recent tribute to the York Boulevard Bridge.)

>Lastly, please be careful when exploring local creeks during the wet season. The Los Angeles Times’ L.A. Now reports a sad story of a youth and his dog swept away by Brea Creek.


>Albion Dairy River Park community input meeting this Saturday January 9th at 10am at Downey Recreation Center. Info at the project website at

Bresee Foundation's innovative Bimini Slough Ecology Park - which features a creekbed bioswale that cleanses street stormwater run-off before it enters Ballona Creek. Photo from

>On Saturday January 16th, C.I.C.L.E. hosts a free, beginner-friendly bike tour of urban gardens. Ride leaders include L.A. Creek Freak Joe Linton (tha’s me! and yes – interested party plug alert – I get paid to do this) and ride features brief tour of the Bimini Slough Ecology Park and water harvesting gardens at L.A. Eco-Village.

>Jenny Price leads FoLAR’s tour of the Mighty Los Angeles on Sunday January 24th.

Places to Visit: Eaton Canyon Falls

January 5, 2010 § 3 Comments

Eaton Canyon Falls, above Pasadena

This new year’s day my friend Jen and I took a hike to Eaton Canyon Falls. There’s plenty of other Eaton Canyon documentation online (and good info in Jerry Schad’s book Afoot & Afield in Los Angeles County), but I figured I’d pass along directions and descriptions for this very easy, very accessible creek hike ending at a very nice 35-foot-tall waterfall.

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An Artesian Belt in San Gabriel: Part I

December 11, 2009 § 26 Comments

In this map, compiled under the direction of W.C. Mendenhall, active artesian areas during the summer of 1904 are hatched in blue and the blue circles indicate pumping plants (double circles), domestic wells (solid blue circles), and artesian wells (outlined circles). Though the San Gabriel artesian belt is clearly defined, only the eastern half is still actively artesian, showing the effects of the lowering of the water table. Courtesy Michael Hart

From the Fair Oaks area in Pasadena through San Marino all the way to Santa Anita Avenue in Arcadia could once be referred to as an “artesian belt”. Rainwater from the San Gabriel foothills sank into the vast basin under Pasadena and percolated upward when encountering the geological formation at its Southern end, called the Raymond Dike. The above-ground part of the dike appears as a bluff cut through with canyons. The cienegas and springs that “broke forth” from the canyons of this Dike, were among the first “developed” as water sources in Southern California, and among the most historically influential.

Irrigation maps from the late 1880s show marshy areas near the head of many of these streams. One especially detailed map of what is now the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, records minor washes and springs not indicated on the 1880s map, along with associated areas of peat. This suggests the possibility that numerous smaller seeps may have existed elsewhere throughout this belt.

About two centuries ago, the Padres directed two zanjas to be built to intercept waters from the whole range of hills from Los Robles Canyon in Pasadena to present day El Campo Drive in San Marino to supply the Mission. The dependable supply of water from these canyons allowed San Gabriel Mission to become so prosperous that it supplied food and other items to settlements and missions throughout California.

After the secularization of the missions, a politically influential group of ranchers tapped these same waters to irrigate thousands of acres of vineyards and fruit trees. These ranchers were pioneers of horticulture in the region and promoted the cause of irrigation statewide. The ranchers hosted guests from afar, and these guests in turn spread effusive descriptions of their impression of plenitude. One such writer, Benjamin Cummings Truman, said of the San Gabriel “fruit belt”: “[I]t would almost seem as if nature had fashioned this narrow belt as a theatre upon which to display the utmost prodigality of her productive powers.”

As the pace of development in the valley picked up, boring wells and tunnels into the canyons increased the productivity of the original cienegas and springs.

To this day, culverts and tree canopy in aerial views of Alhambra mark where the streams of the San Gabriel artesian belt once converged.

This posting, in two parts, describes just some of these water sources from West to East.

The Old Mill and Wilson’s Lake

From 1816-1823 the Old Mill harnessed water from the adjacent canyon to grind wheat and corn to feed more than a thousand Mission Indians.

After being put to use at the mill, the water flowed into a bog at the present day location of Lacy Park. There, the Padres built a dam to power a sawmill, wool-washing works, and a tannery. According to Hiram Reid’s History of Pasadena, the dam caused the lake to double in size. Its storage capacity increased exponentially.

Though the Old Mill was quickly superseded by a more advanced mill built closer to the Mission, the canyon waters still flowed. By the 1880s, eight tunnels drilled to maximize the original spring’s output were supplying the reservoirs of the Alhambra Addition. The total capacity of reservoirs supplied by the canyon’s flow was 6.5 million gallons in 1888.

The lake also outlasted the Mission era. Subsequent generations called it “Wilson’s Lake” or “Kewen’s Lake”. During the turn of the last century, it was a favorite with local boys:

Not a Pasadenan who has grown up here but has been licked for coming home with his hair damp with the waters of Wilson’s Lake… Years ago it was stocked with carp and catfish… But today Wilson’s Lake is nearly dry. In its deepest portions boys were wading about with their trousers rolled half up to their knees, and the poor fish, to the number of thousands, huddled together in their last refuge, prove easy game…

Wilson Canyon

Wilson Canyon was the largest of the canyons, and was a favorite picnic spot for Pasadenans and San Gabrielenos at the end of the last century.

[I]n summer it seems like passing into another clime to drive from the warm sunshine into the delightsome cool green shade of the massive live-oaks, gnarled and twisted into many fantastic shapes.

Though Farnsworth’s 1883 description is one of delicate and airy grace, Truman’s description from the same era of what may be the same canyon took “immense oaks and parasitic vines” and ferns at least five feet high, to be evidence of “the long luxurience of the soil and the tropical warmth of the climate…”

By 1886 at least 9 wells had been sunk in the Canyon.

Hiram Reid wrote that tree rats inhabited the oaks, and frogs from the canyon were harvested for dissection by Throop Polytechnic.


An Artesian Belt in San Gabriel Part II: Grading and Draining: the transformation of the Shorb Ranch

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