San Gabriel Valley Tribune

San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Article Published: Saturday, June 10, 2006

A taste of paradise


ON the way to work Wednesday, I glanced out my windshield to see the San Gabriel Mountains shrouded in a thick, low-lying cloud. Not even Mt. Wilson was visible.

That weather forecaster on Channel 5 said something about a "coastal eddy" and a buildup of thunderclouds.

I thought about how the mountain canyons above our Valley are our Shangri-La, that place where you can go to experience paradise on Earth; a place controlled by the mysterious monks in the novel "Lost Horizon." In more contemporary science-fiction imagery, a City in the Clouds.

It was Saturday morning. I threw together a backpack, a camelback bladder full of ice water, a Power Bar and a flashlight (never can be too careful in the rugged San Gabriels). I smeared on sunscreen and insect repellent and set out for a place that has been lost to the public for two years due to the closure of Chantry Flat Road to automobiles.

Let me back up a few days. At my desk here at work, I got a call from Glen Owen of Monrovia, a Shangri-La soulmate and fellow tree-hugger.

"It's open," he said. "The road is open."

"I'm going. Saturday, first thing," I said almost as a reflex.

The key masters of the road to Big Santa Anita Canyon are almost as mysterious as the keepers of the castle in the novel. They are a nebulous group of cities, from Arcadia to Monrovia to Sierra Madre, the county, and the ultimate Key Master, the U.S. Forest Service. Perhaps we worshipers had offered a big enough sacrifice. Or the energy of the Earth could no longer contain itself. Like the movie "The Da Vinci Code," the canyon entrance forming a giant "V" was calling — and it did not disappoint.

Thanks to the newly restored road, I drove up to the trailhead parking lot/lower picnic ground in half an hour. The Key Masters were there in their green shorts and vests. They had kept the upper parking lot closed so parking was limited.

But, for the first time in two years, I could hike to Sturtevant Falls, named after Wilbur Sturtevant, the Great Hiking Era pioneer who helped open the secrets of the canyon during the late 1800s and early 1900s. The open road makes a huge difference — it allows for a hike through the best canyon of the San Gabriels in only three hours maximum — including drive time. I made it back home for lunch.

Words cannot fully describe this hidden place and its soothing effect. So, I created a Web log or blog and threw on some digital photos I shot of the day hike to help tell the story.

Though a hot, hot day, the only real sun-exposed part of the three-mile hike is the entrance and fire road. The rest of the way takes you past check dams spitting white-foamed water; pools of still water; log cabins poised in a surreal landscape of alders, oaks and granite; and of course, nirvana itself, the falls.

My picture of the falls doesn't quite match Roy Murphy's, who chose Sturtevant Falls for the cover of his great coffee table book "Angeles National Forest." Still, I never tire of its granite backdrop, its mossy green rocks and its powerful, cascading spray.

What's great about Big Santa Anita Canyon is the rewards come all along the way. There are sunshine-yellow wild daffodils and complementary sprawling violets covering alternate sides of the trail.

There's the dancing light through the canopy of trees. The sound of crushed leaves under your feet. Things happen there in slow motion - even the leaves falling to their death take their time, pirouetting like a dramatic dancer in a death scene.

Nothing beats the sites and sounds of nature within the giant canyon that take the visitor far away, far into a Shangri-La that, like the name implies, is part L.A. but so, so different.

I walked out, and, during the uphill portion, wrenched my left hip. It has been nagging me the whole week. I thought of Jacob in the Bible, in Genesis, who under a starry night, on the edge of Canaan, wrestled with an angel and may have indeed "touched" God.

For that, he endured a bruised hip. But for that day, he was in the arms of God.
Steve Scauzillo is the opinion page editor of the San Gabriel Valley

Visit Steve Scauzillo's blog at

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