I woke in the San Gabriel mountains in Angeles National Forest totally rested and invigorated. The temperature had remained pleasant and while morning was cool, I was comfortable while I packed up my tent and gear. I lugged it all down the mountain, past a few groggy waking campers in the campground who silently watched me pass them, possibly wondering where I had come from. One raised a hand toward me, as people do when greeting and not wanting to wake anyone else.
At the parking lot I unloaded my heavy gear into the Jeep once more, then turned around and went right back. On my way down I had spotted the beginning of the trail to Millard Falls, and I wanted to see it before I left. In this dry land, many creeks and falls only happen in the winter or early spring, and there was a chance I could catch the falls with water in it, since it was the middle of March.
The trail gets off to an awkward start. The first thing hikers must do is clamber over the top of a dam. It’s a short wall, maybe only 4 feet high, but still… it’s not very encouraging at the beginning of a trail. The dam is built from fieldstone that juts out unevenly, so there are multiple places for footholds. I could not see any other way to continue on the trail, but to grab some rocks and pull myself over. So strange. I read later on the AllTrails app that people had to lift their dogs over it.
After the wall, the trail has no significant elevation change, is easy to follow, and beautiful.
I saw the perfect amount of people at 7am: enough to say hi and ask questions “Have you hiked above the falls yet this year?” “Is there any blowdown ahead?” but few enough people that I often found myself alone. While at the falls, as you can see in the photos, no one was there. It was an easy trail even with multiple creek crossings. No bugs, the weather was nice, the exercise felt good since I knew I was about to get into the Jeep for my marathon I-5 drive I mentioned in yesterday’s post.
The parking lot was totally full when I got in my Jeep to go. A man who had parked in a place that might not have been allowed, spotted me heading for my Jeep and ran over to his car, and moved it into my spot seconds after I left it.
Driving out of the mountains, I got a chance to see the road in daylight for the first time, and to look down into the valley that holds Los Angeles. The beautiful mountains help trap the smog and dust that turns the sky orange and brown, but it was still a pretty sight.
Though I was leaving the mountain at about 8:00 am, the road was even more packed than it had been at 7:00 pm the night before. Each place where the curve looked over the valley (outside curves, not inside curves), there would be a cluster of cars parked as far off the road as it was safe to be. Hikers and mountain bikers would be pulling on their gear, buckling up, strapping down, laughing and talking with their friends and getting ready to hit the trails.
Oh! And remember on day one of my road trip and I talked about the crazy things one finds as tourist attractions in the U.S.? In that case I mentioned the life-sized concrete replica of Stonehenge. In Altadena they have a Historic Working Payphone! How funny. I had not seen it in the dark the night before, but stopped to check it out on the way back. I picked up the receiver and listened for the dial tone. That old muscle memory (including the unavoidable flinching at the dirty phone and the thoughts about what kinds of germs might be stuck to it everywhere) kicked right in.
I do not know why this phone is maintained in an unpopulated place. I do not know its history, or who pays for maintenance, or who uses it. I had neglected to bring coins or a credit card when I ran across the road to take a photo, and I did not want to run back to the car to get money to call…who? So I smiled, and marveled, and then continued my journey.
I found an awesome little coffee shop in Altadena that required me to wear a mask inside – the first and only time masks were required for me on this entire road trip! In minutes I was on Interstate-5, and heading north. I had managed to skip driving through Los Angeles entirely.
I drove north through California’s gigantic Central Valley all day long, despite speed limits of 70 mph (113 kph). It’s a big state. I stopped only for gasoline (Ay Caramba it’s EXPENSIVE in California! Holy Moly my mind was blown – but I’ll hit gas prices in another blog post.) and bathroom breaks.
In early afternoon I was craving a meal and stopped in the middle of nowhere with a big silly touristy German-themed restaurant.
And then I drove and drove some more. The pictures don’t really show it, but it poured rain for much of the day. Anywhere else it might be a bummer, but in the desert of California, I was delighted and fascinated to see so much rain here. It is typically a very dry area.
The Central Valley is known as “America’s Breadbasket” because of how much agriculture is here. There are rice paddies, corn fields, garlic, cotton, tomatoes, and grapes of course, many nut and fruit trees, and much much more. The sunshine is great for growing, but there is not enough water. So years ago, a tunnel was dug through a mountain in northern California to divert the water from a different watershed. For a time, 92% of the water from the Trinity River was channeled under the mountain into a totally different watershed, and the Sacramento River in the Central Valley, to be used for agriculture. This decimated the salmon populations (among other impacts) in the Trinity, which in turn devastated modern Native tribes subsisting on the salmon. It took decades, but finally laws were passed to reduce the amount of Trinity River water that would go into the Sacramento River. Personally, I think it should be zero percent. Moving huge amounts of water to different watersheds doesn’t seem healthy on an ecological scale. But then, I’m probably eating vegetables, almonds, and rice that benefit from this plan.
(As an aside, my bees live in the Central Valley every winter. They are traveling bees. California is their home in the Winter to pollinate almond groves, Columbia River valley in Spring for the cherry, pear, and apple orchards, then they hang out in my back yard all Summer.)
I stayed that night in a hotel right off I-5 outside of Redding, California. In the morning I stayed on I-5 again all day long. I was so focused on getting home that I didn’t take any more photos. Plus, once I crossed the border into Oregon, it was all familiar and I was less inspired to take pics. All I wanted to do was drive. Finally, finally, after another 8 hours of driving, I parked on the street in front of Pedro’s house and went inside for a long overdue hug and kiss.