Like much of New Mexico, Southern California is a desert. So finding woodsy, shady trails with water can be challenging. With a little searching, I found Sturtevant Falls 25 miles from home. The falls itself was only about 3.5 miles round trip, but Tucker and I could do a whole loop that included Mount Wilson and the falls that nearly doubled the mileage. A six mile hike was much more what I had in mind for Christmas. Nature is my church, and I was looking for the equivalent of a Christmas mass, not just a Sunday service.
It's an adage among many that "The best thing about LA is getting out of it." I agree--day trips up the coast are beautiful, and skiing in the mountains when it's 80 degrees in the city is a pretty nice perk of where I live. But sometimes you need only go twenty miles in any direction to be in a whole different universe. I don't think anyone would see this in their mind when they think of Los Angeles:
Not only is it unsightly, but it's dangerous. At the edge of the pavement, a sign warns dog owners to check the temperature of the pavement by placing the back of their hand on it. Burned pads and heat exhaustion are common for Los Angeles dogs whose owners don’t consider that their canines aren’t wearing trackshoes and shirts made of UV protectant that wick away sweat.
This particular stretch of pavement lasted for three quarters of a mile downhill. The pavement was cool to the touch as it was only 9am. The trail I had picked out had an option to avoid the paved ascent on the way back, so I didn’t need to worry once we hit natural earth at the bottom of the canyon.
Near the bottom, man's made trail cracked and splintered off, revealing Nature's original walkway. A bridge, one of man's more useful interventions into nature, spanned across a tiny brook.
The wide path wove through groves of tall trees, under the canopy of giant ferns and alongside a bubbling brook. Cabins with no seeable driveway or pathway out except on foot were here and there in the woods on either side. They were constructed of old redwood and stones that had been mortared together with hands not machines. The cabins looked like a natural part of the woods, as if they had just blossomed and grown right there on the spot.
They probably had. Los Angeles has a history of people escaping the city by buying land in the middle of forests or in the deep ends of canyons, constructing edifices and calling them their weekend getaways. Even in the 1930's, the best part of LA was getting out of it. But you needn't get that far away to really get out. You did, though, have to hike to get where you wanted to go. There were no roads in or out, and still aren't. That three quarters of a mile of pavement was all Nature and her loyal and faithful subjects, allowed.
At the end of wide dirt “road,” I had three choices on where to go. I had wanted to hit the falls first and then loop upwards to the summit of Mt Wilson, and then back around. On my first attempt, I did not choose wisely. We struck up the hill, and when I reached the top, out of breath, I checked my map to see I was headed in the opposite direction. One could say the creature of the fae are a tricky bunch. Or one could say I have a horrible sense of direction. The latter is most likely true.
We double-backed and headed for my second choice. We definitely got closer to the falls, but evidently missed the turn to get to the bottom of the falls. From here, we viewed the 50 foot falls with ease—fifty feet down and many more feet away.
Much to Tucker’s disappointment, I calculated the risk, deemed it too high, and turned ourselves around on the six inch wide ledge to head back the way we came.
Just before the trail turned away from the view of the falls, there appeared to be a small trail leading down the slope. Precarious and unstable, but a trail nonetheless. I can only assume it had been forged by hikers before me with the same idea: this was so not worth it.
Using Tucker as my solid four-wheel drive partner, I mostly scooched on my butt the entire way down, as rocks and gravel and sand fell apart around us and rolled downhill. It might not have been the right path, but it was the right answer to how to get closer to the falls.
As I sat and dusted myself off, I heard and then saw three hikers above in the same place Tucker and I had just been. I heard the young man falter. “Um, guys, I don’t have a good feeling about this. I think we should turn around.” And he didn’t have a dog on a leash—he was only concerned for his own safety. I no longer felt like an old fuddy-duddy for turning back.
Pride intact, I turned my attention to the falls in front of us. Although certainly no match for North Carolina or Georgia, it was pretty impressive for the City of Angeles.
I was thankful for our early arrival. And thankful for this life I have with a loyal canine partner that I love more than life itself. Tucker is thankful for his gifts—and for the life he has here even if he didn’t get wrapped presents next the the non-working fireplace once a year. He only wishes he didn’t have to wear silly hats.
May all your wishes come true.