Tag Archives: National Monument

San Gabriel Mountains National Monument

San Gabriel Mountains National Monument

California

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Angeles National Forest

346,177 acres

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/attmain/angeles/specialplaces

Overview

San Gabriel Mountains National Monument was proclaimed on October 10, 2014, by President Barack Obama under the power of the 1906 Antiquities Act.  Located just north of the Los Angeles metropolitan area, about 15-million people live within 90 minutes of this mountain range, which provides 30% of their drinking water.  Despite this region’s reputation for sun and surf, the high elevations (topping out at 10,064 feet on Mt. San Antonio) regularly get snow in the winter.  The vegetation ranges from chaparral to oak and mixed evergreen forest and is prone to wildfire (see our post on Angeles National Forest for information on recent fires).

Highlights

Angeles Crest Highway, Inspiration Point, Lightning Ridge Nature Trail, Mt. San Antonio, Mt. Baden-Powell, Throop Peak, Silver Moccasin Trail, Gabrielmo National Recreation Trail, High Desert National Recreation Trail, Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

It was a sunny November afternoon at 7,000 feet in elevation on the Angeles Crest Highway (Highway 2), which traverses the steep-sided San Gabriel Mountains that rise above southern California’s infamous smog.  The rich odor of incense-cedar trees filled the warm air as we ascended the rocky trail from the historic Big Pines Visitor Center. This soulful smell may be more familiar to you than you think since its wood is commonly used to make pencils. The partially shaded path was lined with interpretive signs that introduced the trees and shrubs growing on this dry, south-facing hillside. Across the narrow valley, a ski resort was cut into the dense stands of conifers on the shady north slope.

Best Trail

The 2,600-mile Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail cuts across much of the National Monument with easy access from Highway 2 at the Lightning Ridge Nature Trail and Grassy Hollow Visitor Center.  Other long trails include the Gabrielmo National Recreation Trail and High Desert National Recreation Trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Just west on Highway 2 from the Big Pines Visitor Center is Inspiration Point, which looks south at the often smoggy Los Angeles metropolitan area.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Fees

An Adventure Pass is required to park at many trailheads.  The Forest Service also accepts all America the Beautiful Passes, which can be also used at National Park Service sites.

Road Conditions

The paved Angeles Crest Highway cuts through the National Monument and it used to go through to Glendale, but closed due to damage from the 2020 Bobcat Fire.

Camping

There are many campgrounds in Angeles National Forest, but we did not see any great places to do dispersed car camping when we drove through different portions of it (although we did not drive any dirt roads which is where they typically are found).

Wilderness Areas

Pleasant View Ridge Wilderness

San Gabriel Wilderness

Sheep Mountain Wilderness (also in San Bernardino National Forest)

Related Sites

Saint Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial and Monument (California)

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (California)

Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument (California)

Nearest National Park

Channel Islands (California)

Explore More – The movement to preserve the San Gabriel Mountains began in 2003 with what Congresswoman initiating an environmental feasibility report?

Angeles National Forest

Angeles National Forest

California

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Region

694,175 acres (668,887 federal/ 25,288 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/angeles

Overview

Angeles National Forest is registered as a California Historical Landmark since it became the first protected woodland in the state as the San Gabriel Timberland Reserve in 1891.  It serves as a major recreation destination north of the Los Angeles metropolitan area with 697 miles of hiking trails, several lakes, and two alpine ski areas.  Most of the shrub and tree species are adapted to periodic fire and about one-quarter of the National Forest burned in the 2009 Station Fire and an additional 115,796 acres in the 2020 Bobcat Fire.

Highlights

San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, Saint Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial and Monument, Angeles Crest Highway, Crystal Lake Recreation Area, Mt. Wilson Observatory, Bouquet Reservoir, Mt. Baldy, San Antonio Falls, Gabrielino National Recreation Trail, High Desert National Recreation Trail, Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

Angeles Crest Highway (Highway 2) cuts through the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, established in 2014.  Coming from the east, a good place to start is the Big Pines Visitor Center or the Grassy Hollow Visitor Center, both of which have short interpretive trails with signs identifying local species.  Further west, Saint Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial and Monument (est. 2019) commemorates the tragedy that cost at least 431 people their lives in 1928.  Watch in the coming weeks for blog posts specifically detailing these two National Monuments.

Best Trail

Across from Inspiration Point on Highway 2, there is a parking lot for Lightning Ridge Nature Trail.  The half-mile loop trail offers great panoramas of the surrounding mountains.  It even includes a portion of the 2,600-mile Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail.  Along the trail, my wife and I stopped to sniff the orange, platy bark of a Jeffrey pine for its pleasant vanilla scent, which brought back memories of our time spent living in California. 

Watchable Wildlife

On our November visit, we first saw a western gray squirrel with an incredibly poofy tail atop the Big Pines Visitor Center.  On the Big Pines Interpretive Trail, we spotted dark-eyed juncos and Steller jays flitting about.  Despite its proximity to the city, there are even black bears, mountain lions, and bobcats in this National Forest.  You are more likely to come across coyotes, gray foxes, or mule deer.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Many species commonly found in this National Forest are endemic to this region and grow nowhere else on Earth, including Coulter pine (famous for its massive pinecones that weigh up to 11 pounds).

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Fees

An Adventure Pass is required to park at many trailheads.  The Forest Service also accepts all America the Beautiful Passes, which can be also used at National Park Service sites.

Road Conditions

The paved Angeles Crest Highway cuts through San Gabriel Mountains National Monument and it used to go through to Glendale, but closed due to damage from the 2020 Bobcat Fire.

Camping

There are many campgrounds in the National Forest, but we did not see any great places to do dispersed car camping when we drove through different portions of it (although we did not drive any dirt roads which is where they typically are found).

Wilderness Areas

Cucamonga Wilderness (also in San Bernardino National Forest)

Magic Mountain Wilderness

Pleasant View Ridge Wilderness

San Gabriel Wilderness

Sheep Mountain Wilderness (also in San Bernardino National Forest)

Related Sites

Pinnacles National Park (California)

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (California)

César E. Chávez National Monument (California)

Nearest National Park

Channel Islands (California)

Conifer Tree Species

incense-cedar, bigcone Douglas-fir, Jeffrey pine, Coulter pine, knobcone pine, gray pine, lodgepole pine

Flowering Tree/Shrub Species

California black oak, canyon live oak, California walnut, serviceberry, western mountain-mahogany, California coffeeberry, cup-leaf ceonothus, flannel bush, Parry’s manzanita

Explore More – How long are the Gabrielino and High Desert National Recreation Trails?

Saint Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial and Monument

Saint Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial and Monument

California

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Angeles National Forest

353 acres

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd872458.pdf

Overview

Saint Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial and Monument was authorized on March 12, 2019 to commemorate the 431 lives that were lost when an 185-foot tall concrete gravity dam failed on the same date 91 years earlier only two years after its completion. The death toll is second in the history of California to the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco.  Other dams from that time period remain in use as part of the Los Angeles aqueduct system.  Currently, a California Historical Landmark is located 1.5 miles south at Powerhouse No. 2, but there is nothing developed at the actual site.

A detailed historical account is available on Wikipedia.

Highlights

Ruins of dam, California Historical Landmark #919

Must-Do Activity

There are plans to build a National Memorial at the dam, but currently it is a pile of rubble heavily spray-painted by local teenagers.  After its fall in 1928, authorities further toppled the structure with dynamite, bulldozers, and jackhammers to discourage sightseers and souvenir hunters.  The site is located in a scenic canyon where the leaves were just turning yellow for winter during our mid-November visit.  It is less than a mile walk to the site from the unmarked pulloff on the east side of San Francisquito Canyon Road in Angeles National Forest.  The pathway is the heavily overgrown original roadbed that was abandoned after a storm in 2005 and it reeked of urine.  It will be interesting to see how the Forest Service cleans up the area in the future.

Best Trail

There is no official trail, and it is quite a steep drop from the paved remnants of old San Francisquito Canyon Road to the actual rubble pile down at creek level.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The dam disaster site is not much to look at right now, but there are some angles where you can avoid getting graffiti in your photo.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Fees

None

Road Conditions

San Francisquito Canyon Road is paved, but exercise caution as there is currently no sign for the parking areas nor is there a turn lane on this high-speed two-lane highway.

Camping

There are numerous Forest Service campgrounds in the area, with Spunky Canyon and South Portal being the closest to the north.

Related Sites

Santa Gabriel Mountains National Recreation Area (California)

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (California)

Sand to Snow National Monument (California)

Nearest National Park

Channel Islands (California)

Explore More – How many billions of gallons of water were released when the St. Francis Dam failed in 1928?

Waco Mammoth National Monument

Overview

Columbian mammoths grew up to 14 feet in height, much larger than woolly mammoths that reached about 10 feet.  About 65,000 years ago, a nursery herd of Columbian mammoths died in a ravine here due to unknown causes, possibly a flood or drought.  Then about 51,000 years ago, another three mammoths died at the same spot before the onset of a new glacial period.  Many of the fossils have been left in situ within the Dig Shelter, but others are on display at Baylor University’s Mayborn Museum Complex.

Highlights

Dig Shelter tour, Eagle Trail

Must-Do Activity

Established in 2015, this National Monument was already developed for visitors by the city of Waco and Baylor University.  As such, annual America the Beautiful passes provide no discount for the guided tour to the Dig Shelter where the 65,000-year-old Columbian mammoth and camel bones have been excavated.  First discovered in 1978, this dig site has since had a building constructed around it, making it a pleasant place to visit year round.

Best Trail

From the paved Mammoth Trail, there is the short Deer Loop that connects to the longer Eagle Trail.  Located south of Waco Mammoth National Monument, Cameron Park in Waco has trails along the Brazos and Bosque Rivers.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Dig Shelter is only viewable on a guided tour (admission charged).

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/waco/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$5 per person for the tour (no discount for America the Beautiful pass)

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Many private campgrounds can be found around Waco, Texas, in addition to six Corps of Engineers campgrounds on Waco Lake that take reservations.

Related Sites

Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument (Texas)

Guadalupe Mountains National Park (Texas)

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument (Nebraska)

Explore More – A small tooth was discovered here from a cub of what fearsome Ice Age predator?

Newspaper article, part 3 of 4

Sunday we had our third article published in the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, the local daily in our hometown of Cheyenne, Wyoming. It talks about our recent travels in California as we get closer to our goal of hiking in all 155 National Forests! Please find the entire article below:

Article 1

Article 2

Article 4

Wilderness experiences in northern California’s Mendocino National Forest

The first shock of dipping my bare foot into the frigid water of the South Fork of Stony Creek temporarily made my brain go blank. I was already a bit cold since the air temperature was in the 40s, but thankfully it was not breezy at the bottom of this steep, forested canyon. My wife, Tiff, held my forearm and in my other hand I grasped a stick I picked up on shore to help balance on the rounded rocks. The creek was only ten feet across, but it was running deep and fast enough that there was no way to hop across it. We made it through quickly together, taking turns moving and providing stabilization, but as we approached the opposite side the burning sensation in my feet was quite unpleasant. As I sat down to put my socks and shoes back on, I was grateful for the steep climb ahead of me so I could warm up on my way to Deafy Glade.

I was in northern California to visit Mendocino National Forest, the second to last stop in my quest to hike in all 155 national forests. Tiff and I rolled into the forest after dark, driving up to 3,000 feet in elevation from the valley and setting up a dispersed campsite. The view looking east the next morning was beautiful, the mountains of the Coast Range lit up by the rising sun. As we drove the winding road to the trailhead, we passed campgrounds full of RVs that were getting ready for a motorcycle event that weekend. Our hike took us far from any road noise, past congregations of lady bugs that numbered in the hundreds as we climbed steeply to 5,300 feet in elevation. The trail continued to the summit of 7,056-foot Snow Mountain, but we already found great views of the Rice Valley and decided to turn around at the 4.5 mile point, just inside the official boundary of the Snow Mountain Wilderness.

Despite its relative proximity to the densely-populated San Francisco Bay area, the Snow Mountain Wilderness feels quite remote. Our drive west of Interstate 5 into Stonyford, California cut through a rural area of the state with more cattle than people. Once we crossed the boundary into Mendicino National Forest we saw even fewer signs of civilization. The 915,532-acre National Forest stretches north-south along the Coast Range covering parts of six counties. There are 18 National Forests in California, the most of any state, but Mendocino is the only one not crossed by a paved highway. It is a wonderful destination for outdoor recreation, both motorized and non-motorized.

Wildfire

We originally scheduled a visit to Mendocino National Forests last summer, but about half the forest was closed due to firefighting efforts and the rest had awful air quality conditions. That wildfire eventually burned more than one-million acres, and this was only two years after the Mendocino Complex Fire burned 284,000 acres, including the entire Snow Mountain Wilderness. Heartbreakingly, a firefighter was killed by falling debris during that incident. Tragedy previously struck here in 1953, when one U.S. Forest Service employee and 14 volunteer firefighters died in the Rattlesnake Fire.

Firefighting annually consumes more than half the Forest Service’s $7-billion budget, especially in western states where forests are naturally evolved to burn periodically. Less than 25 years ago that was not the case, but the agency’s spending drastically shifted over time. We expected a desolate landscape after reading about the recent fires, but about three-quarters of the trees along the Deafy Glade Trail were still alive and showed only minor charring at their bases.

Much of the vegetation in Mendocino National Forest is chaparral, a mix of shrub species that are adapted to a frequent fire return interval. Ceonothus, mountain-mahogany, and manzanita are examples of shrubs that bounce back quickly after burning. Even the native tree species, like Douglas-fir, ponderosa pine and sugar pine, grow thick bark to survive surface fires. Knobcone pine and gray pine adapted serotinous cones that remain on the tree for decades, opening up to release their seeds by the heat of a fire. Unique species like Sargent cypress and the shorter McNab cypress grow on outcrops of serpentine rock where there is less vegetation to carry flames. These trees can tolerate the high magnesium levels in the soil of this bedrock that are toxic to other plants. Both species of cypress can be found growing along Frenzel Creek near Little Stoney Campground.

Wilderness Areas

The Snow Mountain Wilderness covers 60,076 acres entirely within Mendocino National Forest and since 2015 the new Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument. There are three other Wilderness areas designated in this national forest: Sanhedrin, Yuki and Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel (which also spreads into Trinity and Six Rivers National Forests). According to the Wilderness Act of 1964, a Wilderness is “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” The law states a Wilderness must be at least 5,000 acres in size and expressly prohibits road building, oil exploration, mining, and logging. It also bans the use of all motorized equipment, in addition to bicycles and hang gliders (which are actually quite popular on Hull Mountain in Mendocino National Forest).

Forty years before passage of the Wilderness Act, the 558,014-acre Gila Wilderness in New Mexico became the world’s first designated Wilderness due to the efforts of forward-thinking people like Forest Service Supervisor Aldo Leopold. Many of the 109-million acres of Wilderness areas in the United States today would not meet his definition of an area “big enough to absorb a two weeks’ pack trip.” While the majority of National Park Service land is Wilderness (nearly 44-million acres), this does not officially include some of its wildest areas, like Yellowstone National Park. About 18% of the Forest Service’s land holdings are designated Wilderness (more than 36-million acres). My travels in national forests took me to some extremely remote mountainous areas like Wyoming’s Fitzpatrick Wilderness, as well as swampy Indian Mounds Wilderness in eastern Texas that is literally bisected by a paved road.

The first Wilderness designated in a U.S. territory was created in 2005 in Puerto Rico’s El Yunque National Forest, the final destination in my journey to all 155 National Forests. I look forward to sharing my experiences from the only tropical national forest with you in a few weeks.

Tiff near where we turned around in the Snow Mountain Wilderness