Discoveries at Hermit Falls

A persuasive number of solid sources insist that Los Angeles is not a desert and they demand we stop calling it one. Based on rainfall the climate is classified as Mediterranean.

Excuse me?

I’ve been slow roasted each summer in the pit of the San Fernando Valley for years now. We run the A/C without mercy and still find it necessary to sprawl on the couch with a fan to the face. The L.A. river is unrecognizable on the rare occasion more than a trickle snakes down the concrete bed. Everyone here knows the river has nothing to do with water and is meant for drag racing or photo shoots.

A Mediterranean climate brings to mind a considerable level of greenery and actual bodies of water.

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If climatologists spent a few days in the valley I’m sure they would announce calculations are off, rain has been mismeasured, it’s back to the drawing board–or, so I thought…

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In search of a great local hike we discovered Hermit Falls (yes, waterfalls!) in the Angeles National Forest. Upon arrival we were transported to a sort of Mediterranean oasis–with the occasional piece of trash dotting the trail like Easter eggs. (You can always rely on people to litter.) Even so, it felt decidedly non-desert. We felt far from the city and adventurous.

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After parking at the trailhead we heard a scream-howl echoing through the trees. Exchanging puzzled looks, we soon realized it was a donkey’s bray–the trail begins at Adams’ Pack Station whose slogan is “Haulin’ Ass Since 1936.” It’s said to be the last pack station of its kind in the United States.

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Home to donkeys, horses, chickens, and goats, the pack station delivers supplies year-round to the surrounding cabin community accessible only by footpath. A small general store provides soft drinks and ice cream.

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We also noticed a mysterious copper wire that followed the trail and I learned it is the last magneto-type crank phone system in the U.S. (You know, those phones in black and white movies where the caller has to crank the handle first.)

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I found these bits of history fascinating and had to investigate. Turns out, this area of the Angeles National Forest was home to the Great Hiking Era (1880-1930). Sounds glorious, doesn’t it?

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Prior to this, few turned to the mountains for recreation. Transcendentalists like Thoreau and Emerson paved the way for writers like John Muir to further extoll the magnificence of the wilderness. It sparked a rush to the mountains for picnicking, camping, fishing, and hiking.

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Mountain resorts sprouted here and according to the L.A. Times, in a typical year such as 1935, “2 million people flocked to the San Gabriels and 140,000 hiked 10 miles or more.”

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A century ago the mountain resorts featured honeymoon cottages and tennis courts where ladies played in long dresses. Men wore white shirts and string ties at dinner and everyone danced to the fiddle under the stars. Things could get pretty rowdy, so I’ve read.

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Never before had I stopped to think about the history behind hiking, but here we were on a piece of it! The Great Hiking Era inspired the Pacific Crest Trail.

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Fires and flood have left 81 of the original 350 cabins.

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How exciting it must have been to be the first to explore an uncultivated frontier.

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I’m thankful to enjoy it today.

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The cool forest floor is carpeted in ivy and canopied by oak and alder trees. The hike is about three miles round trip. Sturtevant Falls trail is another good hike in the area.

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So maybe it’s not a desert.

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This little fellow came out to say hello as we crossed the Santa Anita Creek.

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Sometimes I wonder, am I living life for my own heart? Am I proud of myself according to my own eyes? Are there contradictions to resolve? The years are passing fast.

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Hikes are good for times like these.

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A steady pace on the trail opens your chest and softly pounds out the tightness, the distractions. Nothing in the forest is in a rush.

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The stream moves just as it should. Time doesn’t pass, it’s not to be mourned, it is a wise caretaker who feeds countless births with deaths every day in the woods and all is well.

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A century of hikers have passed here. Maybe I’m on the right path.

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It feels good to be writing again.

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