Places to Visit: the East Fork of the San Gabriel River and the Bridge to Nowhere

August 22, 2012 § 4 Comments

The Bridge to Nowhere over the East Fork of the San Gabriel River, photos by Carrie Lincourt

Last week, a friend and I took a really great hike up the East Fork of the San Gabriel River to the Bridge to Nowhere. It’s an excellent local day hike (9.5 miles round trip) that I highly recommend, though it’s probably best done during cooler seasons – say between late September and early June.  « Read the rest of this entry »

When a grizzly bear surfs woody debris…

December 1, 2011 § 6 Comments

…you know there’s trouble.

Image source: Alaska Wood Carvings. Click image for link.

I had originally begun drafting this post as a follow on to Trouble at the Waterworks, which recounted how the significant rains of 1867 sent piles flying and reduced LA’s zanja system to carted water. These rains offer some insight to just how gnarly a 500-year storm could be, something that circulates in the news from time to time. It’s worthwhile to appreciate how much these rains can shift our rivers, when the human hand isn’t busily doing it, that is. Driving that shift: loads of debris from the mountains washing down.

« Read the rest of this entry »

A Dangerous Journey

March 26, 2011 § 6 Comments

Rainy weather always puts me in mind of the historical oral histories taken down by James Reagan in 1914. They highlight how dramatic, dangerous, and long cross-county travel could be – travel that today makes us irate and grumpy when it take a few hours.

The New River mentioned here is the San Gabriel River, in its “new” channel. It shifted course in the 1860s. S.P. is Southern Pacific (rail road). The trip, 25 miles from Downey to Santa Ana.

The tale of Tom Hutchinson:

« Read the rest of this entry »

Sam Shepard’s Sad San Gabriel River

January 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

Cruising Paradise by Sam Shepard, paperback published by Vintage Books, 1997

Here’s a passage from Sam Shepard’s short story Cruising Paradise in the book of the same name (published 1996) – a book I rediscovered recently and I recommend. This passage, I am pretty sure, is describing the concrete San Gabriel River, though he refers to it as an aqueduct. Two friends are disposing of a partially burned mattress:

We took off with the mattress flopping on the roof and headed west past the Irwindale rock quarry, following the old Baseline Road through lemon groves and vineyards. The honeyed smell of lemon blossoms seemed confusing right then. The strange fear I was carrying didn’t seem to mix with the surrounding nature: a mockingbird in full raucous song; the pulsing mist of irrigated rain. The loud headers on the flathead Merc rumbled through the floorboards, out into the immaculate aisles of lemon trees and oranges. I had a definite sense of somehow being a passenger in an evil vehicle cruising through Paradise. I had no idea how I’d come to be there. A coyote ducked off between the trees and headed for a deep ditch: a beautiful red coyote with a big ruff. He turned toward us and stopped a second, taking in the chopped and channeled Mercury with a burnt mattress flapping on the roof, then slipped away between the smudge pots and rain birds.

We turned off at Fish Canyon and drove up a gravel washboard road toward the Flood Control Aqueduct – a huge concrete serpent that swooped down from the San Gabriels and made its way to the desert. I’d never seen more than a trickle of water in it. The only flood I’d seen was in pictures of Alabama. I’d heard the main function of the aqueduct these days was as a dumping ground for murder victims from L.A., but I never saw a body in it either. Crewlaw pulled the Merc right up to the edge of the concrete canyon and jumped out. He paced a little up and down the edge of the aqueduct, staring out across the manzanita and yucca brush then lit a Lucky Strike and turned back to me. “Let’s get this thing done,” he said, and went straight to the mattress and started unwinding the wire, as his cigarette bopped up and down between his lips. I helped him without asking what he had in mind. « Read the rest of this entry »

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.

News and Events – 1 July 2010

July 1, 2010 § 1 Comment


MTA L.A. River graffiti - from, click for larger image

> Los Angeles Times L.A. Now blog reports that the L.A. City Attorney is seeking an injunction against 10 members of the Metro Transit Assassins. Their massive “MTA” graffiti art piece on the concrete wallks of the Los Angeles River stretched from the First Street to the 101 Freeway in Downtown Los Angeles. Their monumental tag was painted out recently – through a program funded by federal stimulus monies.

> The Downey Patriot reports that the city of Downey has approved plans for a new dog park, to be located on the San Gabriel River. The pull quote comes from Councilmember Roger Brossmer: “I’m all for the Lassies of the world, but I’m worried about vicious dogs.” The new park will be immediately upstream from Rio San Gabriel Park, which is just upstream of Firestone Boulevard. 

> I really enjoyed the above talk by Ellen Durham-Jones. She talks about the the “underperforming asphalt” in suburbia (mainly excess parking surrounding declining big box stores and malls), and how we go about Retrofitting Suburbia. Listen all the way to the end of the 20-minute talk to hear about her conclusions that some of our suburban development can be densified, while other parts of it can become more natural – including daylighting of creeks and 1000-foot buffers on stream corridors! I look forward to reading her book: Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs.

> Riparian Rap begins a new series examining errors in the way artists depict rivers and creeks. He calls these Geomorphically Incorrect Art. So far there’re part 1 and part 2.


> President Obama wants to know what you think our 21st century national conservation agenda should be. He’s sending some of his top folks to Los Angeles so they can hear the public’s ideas and priorities. There are two Los Angeles events next week, both featuring high-ranking cabinet members:

1 – An America’s Great Outdoors Initiative listening session will take place from 6pm to 8:30pm on Wednesday July 7th 2010 at the Whittier Narrows Recreation Area in South El Monte. They’re requesting email rsvps by July 2nd. See details here

2 – The second local America’s Great Outdoors Initiative listening session will be from 3pm to 7pm on Thursday July 8th 2010, at Occidental College in Eagle Rock. They’re requesting email rsvps by July 1st – today. See details here.

News and Events – 20 June 2010

June 20, 2010 § Leave a comment


On Spring at Los Angeles State Historic Park - photo from CA State Parks

> On Spring has opened at the site of Sam’s Lunch, adjacent to Los Angeles State Historic Park. The restaurant offers healthy yummy food. Mainly open at lunchtime (hours Tues-Sat 11am-3pm.) The park is once again the site of archeological explorations… but there’s still plenty of park open for use!

> Whenever a driver hits the brakes, copper gets onto our roadways and makes its way into our creeks and streams, impairing fish health. H2ONCoast reports that states, including California, are looking to take steps toward making this less of an issue. (and, of course, ride a bike!)

> Are stronger federal protections on the way for the San Gabriel River and the San Gabriel Moutains? L.A. Times’ Louis Sahagun reports on recent efforts


> On Thursday June 24th the city of L.A. hosts a couple of public River Revival meetings where you can get the latest on the city’s riverly revitalization. Same meeting repeats 1pm-4pm and 6pm-9pm at the L.A. River Center and Gardens at 570 West Avenue 26 in Cypress Park. See flier for information.

City Listening II this Saturday

> Creek Freak’s Joe Linton will among many excellent speakers at de LaB’s City Listening II at 7pm on Saturday June 26th 2010 at Spring Arts Tower, 435 S. Spring in Downtown Los Angeles. For more information and to purchase tickets go here. Anyone who arrives by walking, riding their bike or taking public transportation receives a very special walking-themed door prize!

> Creek Freak’s Joe Linton will give a talk on the Los Angeles River at 2pm on Tuesday June 29th 2010 at L.A. County’s Culver City Julian Dixon Library as part of their Make Waves at Your Library Summer Reading Program. The library is located at 4975 Overland Ave., Culver City 90230.

> L.A. and San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council hosts  Harvesting the Rain: Decentralized Stormwater Management seminar from 9am-4pm on Wednesday June 30th 2010 at the Autry National Center. Includes afternoon tour of Elmer Avenue.

> The city of Glendale hosts a public meeting for input on future phases of their Glendale Narrows Riverwalk project – including a planned bridge connecting bicyclists and pedestrians to Griffith Park. The meeting is at 6:30pm on Wednesday June 30th 2010 at Glendale’s Grayson Power Plant at 780 Flower Street, Glendale, CA 91201. See Creek Freak background on the project here.

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 »

For Your Viewing Pleasure: Turtles, Ballona Bikes, Dorothy Green and more!

October 25, 2008 § Leave a comment

Here are some on-line videos that all us creek freaks might enjoy:

>Los Angeles Times account of Aquarium of the Pacific’s healing and release of an injured San Gabriel River sea turtle (Great video – with fascinating x-rays of broken turtle flipper bones. Kudos to the great work of the Aquarium of the Pacific staff and the Times’ Louis Sahagun. There are also sea lions in the San Gabriel River.)

>KTLA news coverage of Ballona Creek Bike Path issues (via LA Streetsblog, includes Ballona Creek Renaissance’s Jim Lamm)

>Dorothy Green with Creek Freak bloggers (Jessica and Joe) talking with Los Angeles City Councilmember Ed Reyes on the city’s L.A. River Report public information channel

>Hook TV on How to fish for carp in the Los Angeles River

>Jeffrey Tipton’s Montage on the July 2008 Los Angeles River Boating Expedition organized by George Wolfe (Coming soon: an actual high production value trailer about this expedition. Also, check out George’s kayak commute video.)

>A group I don’t know about called LA River Story has done a somewhat accurate trio of documentaries beginning with San Fernando Valley tributaries: The Great Wall of Los Angeles Mural on the Tujunga Wash, the adjacent Tujunga Wash Greenway, and what they’re calling the beginning of the river in Chatsworth.

>Turn Here’s Down by the (L.A.) River (How many errors can you spot in Creek Freak Joe Linton’s brief appearance? Be grateful that I don’t plan to blog on restaurant recommendations any time soon.)

>Meeting of Styles Graffiti Murals Event (These murals were later painted out)

>Insidious Bliss (A bleak and beautiful documentary on crystal meth addiction and homelessness in the Glendale Narrows stretch of the L. A. River)

and lastly a couple of not entirely successful attempts at Los Angeles River Humor:

>Stewart Paap in search of the LA River (“Easy access, huh?”)

>Deep Sea Fishing in Studio City (My favorite part of this are the outtakes and the brief scene where the actor steps around the construction fence – I plan to blog soon about my frustration that the city of Los Angeles’ Studio City Riverwalk has been fenced off for more than a year.)

Building a Healthier San Gabriel River Watershed Day 2

September 19, 2008 § 3 Comments

San Gabriel River Watershed (from LA&SGR Watershed Council website - click for larger image)

San Gabriel River Watershed (from LA&SGR Watershed Council website - click for larger image)

 If it’s Wednesday and I’m in El Monte, this must be the second day of the Watershed Council‘s Building a Healthy San Gabriel River Watershed conference.  I neglected to mention earlier that day one concluded with a very delicious dinner at the recently expanded Rio Vista Park.  I’ll blog about that park very soon.

Day two had plenty of informative speakers – a bit more focused, less broad than day one.  Irma Munoz, of Mujeres de la Tierra, spoke on doing real community engagement, not just minority outreach.  Irma tells it like it is – especially how critical it is that we listen to and respect our stakeholders.  Munoz got quite a few questions from agency staff who (it seemed to me) wanted her to reveal the secret trick to making connections with the community.  There’s no shortcut for real respect and transparency and knocking on doors.  Travis Longcore, of the USC Center for Sustainable Cities, spoke about the false dichotomy between cities and nature (and local impacts on the Loggerhead Shrike also called the Butcher Bird).  Ken Schwarz, an environmental restoration engineer for Horizon Water & Environment, discussed changing approaches to flood control channels urban streams, including hopeful examples from Napa, Sonoma, and Ballona Creek.  He brought up an interesting aspect that I think is underappreciated locally – integrated channel maintenance(!) and restoration. With all our integrated plans, there hasn’t been much focus on how go about maintaining existing channels and rights-of-way to better restore ecological functions… hmmm… there’s a whole blog entry that we could do with that one… soon.  Ellen Mackey, the Watershed Council‘s native plant guru  Senior Ecologist, spoke about the importance of emphasizing locally native plants.  She’s been instumental in coming up with the very-native LA River Master Plan landscaping guidelines, mapping vegetation on the San Gabriel River, and is also looking at that pesky maintenance issue – by coming up with a site-specific park maintenance manual for park staff and the community.  I will try to get my hands on this and share it soon on this blog.

Climate change was the subject of the second panel, with Rich Varenchik of the California Air Resources Board giving a broad overview of the state’s plan to implement AB32.  It mostly boils down to a much needed massive energy-efficiency plan (with some some smart growth and low impact development thrown in.)  For me, the most interesting speaker of the whole day was Stefan Lorenzato of the state Department of Water Resources.  Lorenzato spoke about how climate change is shifting how we look at watershed management.  In the unpredicability of future climates, he stressed that we should move away from monitoring for static goals, and look at “gradients.”  Our strategy should create rich resilient mosaics, not monocultures.  He connected this with a look at unpublished research that he’s involved in that shows the roughness of various stream channels.  It turns out that, at some flow volumes/speeds, some vegetation (ie: willows) turns out to be less rough (which is to say, allows more stream flow volume) than bare channels.  This means that some vegetation in a channel doesn’t necessarily reduce that channel’s capacity.  I will try to track this study down and blog on it, too (gotta keep a list of the promises I make here.)

The day ended with a media panel: Louis Sahagun of the Los Angeles Times, and Steve Scauzillo of the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.  They each spoke movingly of growing up along the then “lush jungle setting” of the San Gabriel River and how their journalism has brought environmental issues to light.  The creek freak bloggers could learn a thing or two from these veteran journalists… especially about getting out a good “summary lead.”  I have to work on that.

Changing Historical Alignments of the San Gabriel River

Lastly, here’s an image from Eric Stein’s presentation on day one of the conference.  I blogged on this before, but didn’t have the visuals to show you.  The maps on the left show how the course of the San Gabriel River has changed over time.  Click on the image to download the full 17MB SCCWRP report.

Well… there’s was quite a bit more that went on at the conference… but that’s my summary of the formal high points.  The best informal aspects of conferences being those times where I get to catch up with many of the other creek freaks from throughout the southland.  I’m grateful to and looking forward to more informative events from the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council.

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