Saturday, September 16, 2017

Arrastre Creek Aspen Grove

    One of the most elegant plants in North America grows only in a few selected location throughout California, most of which are in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains.  Beneficiaries of cold winters and cool summers, most of this species is content to thrive in other montane locales in the Intermountain West and more frigid reaches of Canada and the United States. In Southern California, two stands of these rare tranquil trees grow only within the eastern San Bernardino Mountains.  The larger, far more frequently visited, and now burned grove is known simply as "Aspen Grove" in the San Gorgonio Wilderness.  At its peak it was quite frankly among the most spectacular jewels of the region as the trees graced gurgling Fish Creek.  However, the devastating 2015 Lake Fire has not only kept the trail to them closed at the time of this writing, but the grove itself has burned to the ground.  This is only a bad thing for us mortals, as the Aspen are fire-hardy individuals who thrive in rebirth through ash-laden soil.  It will be many decades though for this grove, and indeed the entire wilderness, to reach its same level of sublimity prior to the raging inferno.

Fortunately for arborists, there is another grove of these trembling trees, completely off-trail, unsigned, and hidden from everyday visitors tucked into the creek bed of an inconspicuous eastern range drainage.  This is the hidden Arrastre Creek Aspen Grove, filled with hundreds of this locally extremely rare beauty in a vale practically uninvited and unseen by even the most experienced of hikers.  This is unfortunate, because it is really quite a simple trip that could be made by most with reasonable hiking ability and excellent route finding.  

In order to keep this grove secret and untouched, there will be no directions posted publicly here to the location of this noble and delicate grove.   If you are interested in visiting the grove, I ask that you comment below with a brief resume of your outdoor experience and why you wish to visit the trees.  Please do not take this as pride, but a measure to keep this trees unspoiled for generations to come.  Also note, there will be no write-up, but only pictures.  A trail guide may be requested by the reader to view.      


Category: Easy
Miles: 2.75
Elevation Gain: 700'
Location: San Bernardino National Forest
Directions: (See Above Request)

Hiked: 9/16/2017.  No Adventure Pass Required.


Road heading down into Arrastre Creek

Trailside Flower in Sept.

Heading down....

PCT section

Conifer forest

Off trailing....

Behind this tree...

Small Trees

First glimpses of Fall coming... 
Beautiful White bark


Dense Stand

Wildwood Canyon State Park: McCoulough-Oak Tree Trails

    Wildwood Canyon State Park, nestled in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains doesn't offer visitors much in terms of services, but what it lacks in ordinary practicality it makes up for in serenity.  Centuries-old Interior and Coast Live Oak Woodlands dominate the lower hillsides as grand and magnificent as any in Southern California.  Out of the moister canyon bottom and free from the dense oak canopy, montane chaparral is the dominate plant community hosting a variety of native plant species such as scrub oaks, manzanita, yucca, and chamise.  Wandering the network of trails among historic ranch houses, and back dropped by the rugged high mountain slopes of Yucaipa Ridge, one can easily be enthralled with the idea of what this entire county would have looked like in eras past.


Category: Easy
Miles: 1.75
Elevation Gain: 330'
Directions: HERE
Location: Wildwood Canyon State Park

The Trail: From the large parking area, proceed onto the Oak Tree Loop trail past come picnic benches and restrooms as the trail enters quickly into a quintessential oak woodland county, replete in season with numerous stands of California Wild Gourd.  As the trail continues, take the fork left upwards into the woodland.  Note the dense canopy of trees above and the varied species in the undergrowth of the giants around you.  Imagine for a minute that many of these trees here could vary well have been seedlings when Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo became the first European to set landfall in California 1542.  As the path quickly ascends through the remainder of the forest, it steepens before flattening in montane chaparral  which comes into view subsequently.  The trail wanders through this rich community before meeting with the McClough Trail near a picnic bench and horse watering area.  If you have time, continue to add onto the trip, by connecting to various other trail.  However to follow this write-up, take the dirt road left towards the Hi-Up Historic House, before following the road back down into the parking lot.  

Hiked: 9/16/2017.  No Fee Required.           

Park Entrance

Oak Woodland

Dense understory growth

Transition of Woodland into Chaparral

Montane Chaparral

Yucca Whipeli (Our Lord's Candle Yucca)

Hi Up House (historic)

Persimmons tree?

More woodlands en route to parking lot

Sign on the way out

Friday, August 25, 2017

Black Mountain (7,772') and Hall Canyon Grove of Giant Sequoias

     High on the western slopes of Black Mountain in the vicinity of Hall Canyon, a rather inconspicuous vale one the western side of the San Jacinto Mountains, live true wonders.  Here growing over two-hundred miles south of their native range, a mature and expanding grove of Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) unbeknownst to most Southern Californians, thrives.  Along the way, the hiker experiences first hand the robust individuals of this ancient species, as well as plenty of solitude on this seldom used steep trail.  Starting in montane chaparral,  traveling through mid-elevation coniferous forest, before reaching the summit with its active fire lookout tower, this trip offers hikers with an interest in botany and natural adaptation, a rare opportunity to delight in this fascinating part of the wonders of creation.   


Category: Strenuous 
Miles: 7.5
Elevation Gain: 2,800'
Location: San Bernardino National Forest

The Trail:  From the dirt lot trailhead just off Highway 243, proceed upwards along the obviously marked Black Mountain Trail.  The route start out rough immediately, gaining over one thousand feet in about one mile.  Thankfully nearby vegetation and wildlife can make the trip easier going.  Dense old-growth stands of tree-like manzanita and inland scrub oak, forming an impressive canopy in some places.  In between this dense growth are stands of hardy Canyon Oak and Black Oak, as beautiful a tree as any in Southern California.  Scattered between even these are individual southern California endemic drought-tolerant Coulter Pines and Bigcone Douglas Firs, with the latter producing the largest and heaviest pine cones on the planet easily recognizable by their massive sheer bulk and curved spiked protrusions on the sides.  Turkey Vultures loft along the bright blue sky as various species of lizards bask on gigantic granite boulders and outcrops.  Take the first mile slow going, as it, along with most of this trip, can be miserable on hot summer days.  As you gain elevation and the temperature slowly cools, an increase in conifers appears, as do fleeting views down into the San Gorgonio Pass and Sonoran Desert.  The trail winds around a large bulwark of mountain, before heading up Hall Canyon about 2.3 miles from the start.  

     Here, as the forest in some ways grows ever denser with second growth trees, remnants of an old wildfire can be detected by the great snags of pines, and fallen logs and limbs of decades past.  Around 6,500', if careful and keen in plant identification, two abnormalities depart from the usual native species of trees in these mountains.  These trail-side companions are the first visible members of the Hall Canyon Grove of Giant Sequoias. 

     Planted in 1974 following a devastating wildfire, young saplings were planted in a small area with the intention of returning the mountain to pre-fire vegetative conditions. Since the 1990's, a few botanists became enamored with not only the sustainability of this collection of trees, but their ability to thrive in a range so foreign to what was previously thought friendly to the species.  Today, nearly 160 individuals can be seen over many acres along the trail in elevations from 6,500' to over 7,000', forming in some places thick groves of mature trees.  If there near-fifty year survival is not fascinating enough, their ability to thrive and colonize the slopes of Hall Canyon is all the more incredible.  Usually thought restricted to cool moist slopes on the western Sierra Nevada, this grove has prospered in a climate with less rainfall and snowfall than their Sierran homeland. Nonetheless, the fire-burned slopes when these trees were first planted destroyed competing vegetation allowing the Sequoias to gather required soil and water nutrients, as well as open the forest canopy for photosynthesis.  The reproduction of the species is more baffling, and more research still must be done to determine the extent and detail of the trees' cone production. 

      Fundamentally though, the Giant Sequoia has become naturalized in the San Jacinto Mountain of Southern California.  Several large some trees reach heights over 50'.  While native species of pine have doubtless taken a blow in the constant struggle for resources, the Giant Sequoia is now thriving in the mountains above millions; yet it remains a virtual secret to all but the most astute in outdoor adventure. Hiking about these naturalized infant giants which can live over 3000 years and grow around 300' high so far from their native range, is not only a testament to the supreme adaptability of creation, but is also a personal encounter with ancient wonders.  More questions need to be answered of course regarding this grove, and although some have helped to do just that, what is more important is that these trees ought to be experienced in their full glory by hikers who can appreciate their majesty as the uprising generation of the largest living thing on the planet growing along the mountains millions look out to daily.     
     After passing the upper grove around 7,000', the trail switchbacks up the westside of Black Mountain, before joining a dirt road, just shy of the summit.  Continue the final steep quarter mile southeast, passing a large water tank on a non-maintained trail to the summit, and its impressive lookout tower.  When manned, volunteers welcome hiker up to the balcony to more fully appreciate the views which stretch from the heights of San Jancinto, down the steep San Gorgonio Pass, up to the lofty stretches of the San Gorgonio Wilderness, and down into the Inland Empire, and Santa Ana and Palomar Mountains.  After enjoying the view, return the way you came, passing once again through the Hall Canyon Sequoia Grove back to the trailhead.  

Hiked 8/24/2017.   No Adventure Pass Required.   


A large Canyon Oak acorn

Steep section

Coulter Pines

Black Oaks

Beautiful stand here

Dusty, steep trail section

Expanding view northward

Canyon Oak woodland

Granite Spiny Lizard 

Entering Hall Canyon

Lower Hall Canyon
Meadow through lower Hall Canyon

First two Sequoias

Difference between Sequoia (L) and Incense Cedar (R) foliage (both in the Cypress Family) 

Upper Hall Canyon meadows

Dense Fern stands

Sequoia Cone!

One day...

A large individual

A large trunk

A taller one along the trail around 6,900'

Heart of the Grove

Looking down into the "heart"

A neat row of Sequoia

Collection at 7,000'

Cones can remain on the branches for many years

 Greener individuals could be seen higher in elevation for the most part

View from the Upper grove atop Hall Canyon

Out-lyer growing alone around 7,200'

 Mid-Coniferous Forest

Large Sugar Pine cones

Route to the summit

Getting closer...

San Jacinto massif


Very hazy day out west

Santa Ana Mountain across a sea of haze

Summit, nearby trees