On Sunday we drove to the edge of the San Gabriel Mountains in Pasadena, where the city stops and the wilderness begins. The boundary is really quite abrupt. The city lies flat and to the south, extending for many freeway miles. The canyon and the foothills rise to the north, too steep for a road, and no one has ever lived there.
We walked up the canyon in a family party. The first mile is an easy stroll. At the beginning, it's not really a canyon with steep sides, but just a wide stream bed.
The stream runs cold and clear coming out of the foothills. My brother says the creek runs until June and then it dries up. He lives nearby and hikes this trail often.
Here it is late December and it's still autumn -- the sycamore trees have golden brown leaves falling down around their trunks in piles, waiting for the wind to blow them someplace else. The sycamore trees favor the stream side in this dry country and they can get very big. They have beautiful smooth silver trunks.
The other tree is a kind of California oak with shiny, tough leaves, the color of dark green. You look at these oak trees and you know it can get really hot and dry around here. They just look kind of desert tough, like they're going to hold on to their water root by root and leaf by leaf.
Away from the stream, the foothills rise quickly with no trees at all. Looking up you only see brush on this south-facing slope. Of wildlife, there are bears, lions, coyotes, deer, foxes, hawks, eagles, and less glamorous species such as possum, raccoon and rabbit.
The mountains rise up to snow-capped peaks. You can see them in the distance driving on the San Bernardino Freeway -- snowy mountains far away, in the winter-time, when the air is clear.
The Station Fire last August was one of the biggest burns in California history at 250 square miles. After our canyon hike, we drove a few miles to the west where we could view the burned out area. The blackened hills extend for miles.
The fire was not completely extinguished until mid-October. Many residents at the base of the foothills were evacuated. Many others were safe in their homes, but for the choking smoke. The fire was just barely stopped here at the edge of the city. Unfortunately, the stronger winds blew north, and there was nothing to stop it going that way, so the fire just took off like a freight train and raged across the Angeles National Forest until it was spent and then finally corralled.
Now the residents fear the mudslides. In Southern California, mudslides follow brush fires. So the residents at the base of foothills held their breath last week when we got 2.5 inches of rain. There were sandbags installed ahead of time, and concrete abutments in critical areas, and the damage was minimal.
The danger of mudslides will not diminish until the soil is settled with new grass and brush. The winter rains should get things growing again, and it is reasonable to expect a show of green on the foothills fairly soon.
Far into the mountains, the Singing Springs Resort burned to the ground during the fire. It had been a group of small cabins and a big house and barn used by the gatekeeper. The Webb family has owned this 16-acre property since 1947. They used to have a roadside store, a gas station, even a post office. But business dwindled in recent years and maintenance was poor.
The Webb family found that they could rent out the property to film-makers as a location. They made less money than when it was resort, but the costs were lower and they were able to keep the property and pay the taxes. But the Station Fire last August destroyed all the buildings and filled the abandoned swimming pool with ash and debris.
They were at a loss until they discovered they could still rent the property as a movie location -- to people making disaster movies.
Do you need burnt-out ruins amid a bleak ash-ridden landscape for your next apocalyptic film? Then call the Webb family and they will rent you their recently destroyed property. They’ve had three takers so far, and life goes on, because this is Los Angeles, and no matter what the trouble, you just make a movie out of it.
The caretaker has moved a small trailer on to the property with a generator. He reports new shoots of green in the burnt land. He has seen mice and other rodents and even a rattlesnake or two. One of the singed sycamores recently sprouted shoots of new leaves. The Singing Springs Resort has survived another disaster.
The brush fires and mudslides in a desert landscape make you wonder how anybody can live in this desert climate. Throw in the earthquakes, and it’s a miracle that one of the world’s biggest cities exists here at all.
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