Friday, March 24, 2023

Places Of The Water!

The sights of spring! The seasonally verdant San Gabriel Mountains overlook a gated subdivision and the San Gabriel River uncharacteristically rushing down below.

Friday, March 24 was a bright and clear day - high winds the night before blew the last remnants of the previous rainstorm away and Angelenos awoke to a sky of blue. Though the Vernal Equinox came and went earlier in the week, today was surely the unofficial official First Day of Spring, if the fully-opened California Golden Poppies on the grounds of The Militant's Compound was an indication.

The Militant headed east by car (he wasn't quite ready for a Metro + bike adventure just yet for an unspecified reason) to the 626. Though the 210 is normally a breeze, it slogged with 405esque slowness for most of the journey from the Rose Bowl onward. The destination: Azusa Canyon! The Militant looked forward to the northernmost reaches of State Route 39 to As Far As He Could Go.

Upon exiting Azusa Avenue, he headed due north, past the Metro station, reminding himself that he hasn't been around These Here Parts since the Gold Line Foothill Extension's grand opening some seven years ago this month. Has it really been that long?

Why Azusa Canyon? Though a light frosting of snow on the upper reaches of the middle San Gabriels (which overlook Pasadena) greeted us down below, the warm, sunny temperatures meant some of that snow was melting already, as well as some of the rainwater that came down during the past few days. The canyon is where the San Gabriel River begins upon its descent down to the San Gabriel Valley and on to its terminus in Seal Beach. After all, Azusa was named after the Tongva village of Asuksagna (later called "Rancho El Susa" by the 19th century Mexicans), which means, "Place of the water." So there you go.

The Militant's plans were slightly dashed when an orange Caltrans road condition sign trailer was set out on Highway 39 bearing the words, "AZUSA CANYON CLOSED." Booo! But The Militant still wanted to see how far he'd go. 

It wasn't long until he saw a set of cones on the road and two CHP vehicles blocking the way. The Militant took a U-turn onto a dirt lot on the side of the road, parked The Militant Mobile and heard the sound of rushing water. The dirt lot was conveniently set on a cliff overlooking the raging San Gabriel River down below. And was it raging. There was water alright, LOTS OF IT.

Not far from where The Militant stood, there was a bicycle/jogging trail that ended in a small cul-de sac. Guess The Militant could have biked up here after all. Noted for next time. After marveling at the sight of blue sky, green mountains and tan-colored rushing water, he made his way back southwards for a bit before crossing the river on a bridge leading to a gated community. But he was able to park on the un-gated street just west of the bridge and walked up to it.

The raging San Gabriel River as seen from the Mountain Laurel Way Bridge.

Though The Militant went as far as he was able to, he didn't want the day to go to waste. He realized that he wasn't too far from Glendora, so he made his way down Azusa Avenue and took a left on Route 66 to get his kicks. In The Militant's Lil'Mil days, Glendora was a familiar place, being where a family friend once lived and owned a business (no longer there). But back then he was not yet attuned to the legendary appeal of the one they call The Donut Man.

The Militant is almost embarrassed to admit that he never partook in the culinary wonder known as The Strawberry Donut, and even though TDM opened a location three years ago that was much, much closer to The Militant Compound, to be initiated into the sacred Strawberry Donuthood rite at a Donut Man location that wasn't the O.G. spot just didn't feel right. So he bought a few of them, as well as their almost-as-legendary Tiger Tail - a delightfully twisted chocolate-with-honey-glaze splendor. The Militant couldn't wait, so he opened the box on the trunk of The Militant Mobile and sank his teeth into the jelly-slathered strawberry wonder sandwiched between two horizontally-cut donut halves. OMG. The hype is real.

Now The Militant has finally earned his right to get one of these at Grand Central Market.

Since he was in Glendora, he might as well check up on the progress of the under-construction Metro L-previously-known-as-Gold-but-soon-to-be-known-as-A-previously-known-as-Blue Line station. He parked next to the Glendora USPS Post Office on Ada Avenue, and there it was, just a few yards up.

The Metro Rail Glendora station. Coming 2025. Or 2026. Or 2027. One of those.

Though the rails were in place, there was little to the station but its concrete foundation and a couple installed-but-non-functioning railroad crossing signals. Seems as though they have a ways to go. But for those of you already making your Foothill Extension Opening Day plans, The Donut Man is a 1 1/4-mile walk to/from the Glendora Metro station (great way to work off those carbs!). Just so you know!

The marquee of the old Azusa Foothill Drive-In Theatre (1961-2001).

Heading back to Azusa, the sight of the Azusa Foothill Drive-In Theatre marquee caught his eye. The drive-in, built in 1961, was, at the turn of the 21st century, the last remaining drive-in theatre along Route 66 west of Oklahoma. It closed in 2001 but the sign was declared a historic monument and was saved. The drive-in location is now the parking lot for APU (no, not that one).

A is for Asuksagna.

The Militant also caught sight of a white letter "A" on a mountainside overlooking The Canyon City. Yes, Azusa has a Hillside Letter (or a Mountain Monogram), a western U.S. phenomenon of placing the initial of a city, town or educational institution on the side of a mountain.

A piece of public art built in 2021 is based around the poem,
"The Stone, The River, The Door," by Krystal Chang.

A tiny cap of snow sits atop Monrovia Peak, as seen from Downtown Azusa.

Housing in Azusa - future and past.

The Union Station-bound L-Line train leaves the Azusa Downtown station with some snow-capped San Gabe peaks in the background.

The Militant wanted to walk around Downtown Azusa for a bit, so he parked off of Azusa Avenue on 6th Street - coincidentally, also in front of a USPS Post Office. He passed a playground that what was once the Azusa Theatre (1926-1972) and a modern mixed-use development a block up the street that features a facade that pays homage to the old theatre. There was also much public art in the form of wall murals, utility box art and a steel public art structure which bore the words of a poem. He went as far as the Metro Station and Target before walking back on the other side of the street. He also happened upon the Azusa  outpost of Congregation Ale House, conveniently just three short blocks from the Metro Rail station. Hmmm...noted.

Heading west on the 210, The Militant exited in Doorty, parked at Encanto Park and visited an old friend he had not seen since September 2015 - the 1907 Puente Largo Bridge, one of the featured surviving Pacific Electric remnants on his Pacific Electric Archaeology Map. It carried the Red Cars between Downtown and Glendora until 1951 and was renovated to its modern purpose as a pedestrian and bicycling path in 1989. The 1,019-foot bridge (the U.S. Bank Tower in Downtown Los Angeles could rest on the bridge end-to-end in its entirety with a foot to spare each side) spans the normally dry banks of the San Gabriel River - but not this day! The river was rollin' and raging! He was just a few miles south of where he was previously, and this water was well on its way to the spreading grounds in nearby Irwindale, where it will enter the groundwater table to be later used by the MWD and some of the local municipal water utilities.

The Puente Largo Bridge in Duarte. Not bad for a 116 year-old.

The riverbed was so much greener than when he was last there - the banks of the river also had small basins that caught excess flow from culverts. The basins also functioned as vernal pools, with wild (though invasive) mustard flowers popping up nearly everywhere. There was also a bike bath along the east bank of the river that reminded The Militant that he should take on this river path via two wheels sometime.

Vernal pools past the east bank of the San Gabriel River, with the bike path to the left.

The Militant continued on westward on the 210, but he wanted more. While searching for a place to eat, he saw a sign along Altadena Drive that read, "Eaton Canyon Natural Area Park." Hmmm. So he followed the signs up the road, past New York Avenue and entered an area right at the foothills with bushes and wildflowers galore. As soon as he got out of his car, he heard it: The sound of rushing water.

Eaton Wash is alive!
The Militant got so excited, he climbed down into the creek bed, crouched down and scooped up a handful of cold, clear water that made its way down the San Gabriels. It was this hardcore city boy's little moment with nature and it was quite awesome.

Wild Bush Sunflowers were in bloom.
Back on the trail, he was surrounded by rows and rows of native Bush Sunflowers in bloom. There were some prickly pear cacti in the area. A couple that was hiking asked him where the waterfall was. Though unfamiliar with the trail, he knew that it went in a roughly straight-line direction northward, so he pointed to the mountains. But he was curious about it now that the topic came up. So he kept walking towards the San Gabes. Several yards ahead, the trail dipped down in elevation slightly and the sound of rushing water grew louder. He saw another couple (one of them carrying a baby) walking across the shallow, yet fast-moving Eaton Wash, the water whitened as rapids by nearby large rocks. He didn't think crossing the water was a smart idea, but he watched vigilantly and at the ready while The Adventure Family was reaching the other bank, just in case there was a potential emergency. Fortunately, Adventure Family made it across safely, but The Militant didn't want to get his boots soaked, so he just stayed on the south bank, taking pictures and video.

Heading back, he stopped by the little Nature Center that had a small exhibit on the water table in the area. Eaton Canyon's watershed is part of what is called The Raymond Water Table, by which the cities of Pasadena, Altadena and other nearby municipalities pump for use in their respective water supplies. So no, this water doesn't go wasted out to sea. It is part of the greater Los Angeles River watershed, as it flows into the Rio Hondo, which meets the Los Angeles River in the South Gate area. There was also a cool California native plant garden outside of the Nature Center building.

The Militant headed out and back to Altadena Drive, being in awe that the Eaton Wash's rapids were just a few hundred yards from the streets of Pasadena. He proceeded south on Altadena Drive and west on Washington Street and found a place called Baja Cali Fish & Tacos.

Baja Cali's #3 combo with two Baja Cali Tacos, fries and drink for $11.99
The tacos had grilled fish and shrimp. Nothing mind-blowing, but it was pretty good. The restaurant seems to be a local chain with locations in the San Gabriel Valley, as well as in Long Beach and Highland Park. He'd definitely try out the other items next time (the potato and birria taco selections sound appealing).

He made his way back to the Militant Compound as the sun was setting on the first clear evening in a long-ass time. Here's to spring, here's to watersheds and wildflowers!

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