John Muir and the San Gabriel Mountains. And then there’s fire and rain!

It’s been raining–a light rain, but for about half an hour now it’s been a timid, yet delightful visitor. The Los Angeles region is anticipating back-to-back storms, a promising potential of more rainfall to Southern California than we’ve realized since March 2011.

We are repeatedly reminded that this doesn’t mean the drought is over. I think we get that–but pardon me while I enjoy it for as long as it lasts.

Now that NASA is partnered with the California Department of Water Resources to better manage the state’s resource future and assist in navigating the current drought, I’m curious what more we may learn about weather patterns and assessment implications for the future.

There has been so much hand wringing, and I begin to wonder if in time we will learn how to adapt. California has never had an aggressive water harvesting plan. But that’s another story.

One need only look to the ancient Harappans, the mysterious culture that once existed along the Indus River and is theorized to have disappeared when regular, seasonal flooding subsided and the region suffered agricultural failure.

Of course, that was 3,000 years ago.  I have my fingers crossed that California’s fate will be a little brighter.

So in a spirit of optimism I left home this morning with my three-year-old barely used umbrella. I expect the next few days it will get good use.

Unfortunately not everyone is whooping for joy. Do you recall my photos of last month’s Colby Fire?


Residents of Glendora and parts of Azusa are currently on stand-by, notified of a multi-agency alert system prepared to warn residents if evacuation becomes necessary. 2,000 acres of the San Gabriel foothills were severely damaged by fire last month, and officials are not taking this lightly.

Badly scarred foothills
Badly scarred foothills

Citizens and emergency officials recall the horrific damage to this same area in 1969, when there was actually more damage to property from mudflows than from the previous year’s fire.

For those of us who live in the San Gabriel Valley, these mountains are a majestic and a panoramic backdrop to every occasion.

The mountain range, named after the Spanish San Gabriel Mission, is geologically active, trapped between two plates. and in fact, much of the larger Los Angeles metropolis is built on millions of years of accumulated mountain sediment.

I adore these mountains and I am always learning something new.

For instance, I only recently learned that Scottish-American naturalist John Muir, not only loved the San Gabriels, but played a part in lobbying  President Benjamin Harrison to create the San Gabriel Timberland Reserve,  the first such reserve in California. Muir and others, in response to accelerated logging and vanishing forests and streams after gold was discovered just a few miles from my home, was a strong figure in preserving the San Gabriel Mountains.

Muir was a tireless champion in protecting California wilderness areas. He is well-known for his activism in preserving the Yosemite Valley, Sequoia National Park and the founding of The Sierra Club. But his reach was far more extensive, and as a national treasure, is often referred to as the “Father of the National Parks.”

 There is so much more to this man than could be included in even a series of in-depth blog posts, so I leave it to you to discover more about his contribution to the preservation of wilderness in the United States.  He left behind wonderful writings of his discoveries and his ecological thinking, and he truly was a fascinating individual.

I will include more about Muir and his connection to the San Gabriel Mountains and local politics after I have the chance to read a book I have requested from my local library. I’m eagerly awaiting, “John Muir: A Naturalist in Southern California.”

I am quite certain that after reading this book I won’t be able to contain myself. I’m already finding dozens of surprising and interesting connections to names and places at the local level. Even with John Muir high school in Pasadena it really didn’t occur to me that Muir’s extensive social and political ties had extended this far south.

I always like to leave a little “extra credit” for the interested. This video is a hike through the portion of the San Gabriel Mountains, Big Santa Anita Canyon, where gold was discovered in the 1850’s at the lower end of the canyon. The discovery didn’t amount to much, but is responsible for many of the trails that exist today.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed that the rain lasts long enough to do us some good. And that sandbags hold back the mud. Mother Nature is remarkably capricious at times!

72 thoughts on “John Muir and the San Gabriel Mountains. And then there’s fire and rain!

  1. You start with: “It’s been raining–a light rain . . . . ”
    Well, this is exactly how I could have started today too. Yesterday it was rather hot and humid. During the night we had a lot of thunderstorms. Well, and today this light rain. Even our drought effected inland areas did get a bit of rain recently, I think. You must be happy when you get some rain in California where it is needed most.
    I must come back to your post later. I did not read it all yet, but am looking forward to reading it soon.

      1. Hi Debra, what you write about John Muir is very interesting. People like him really make our world a better place. And I’ve seen now one of these Hike videos. Enjoyed it a lot. I think every young person would love to go on a hike like this. The video makes us feel like we’ve been there. I especially love waterfalls. We have a few in our area. I think I’ve been to all of them over the years. By car we can get within a couple of hours.pretty close to a waterfall. Some are easy to reach on foot. We still have very wet weather here right now. Maybe it would be a good day to have a look at one of the falls! In case we make it to a fall (maybe today?) I’ll try to take some pictures and post them.

  2. I hope you get more rain to stop any chances of more fires… what a lovely walk the vid gives, have you done that walk? It sure looks beautiful, and I can see why you love the area….

    1. I have done some limited hiking in the San Gabriels, but most of that was a long time ago. I’d like to do more if I could find an experienced hiker to go with me! I’m working on one of my nephews. 🙂 All the postings about mountain lions and bears kind of discourages me from being too adventurous, I’m afraid! But more rain is definitely coming this weekend. Yippee!

  3. Glad you get to enjoy a little rain at last – love the image af a barely used umbrella! I have bought myself a small book called “Meditations of John Muir” – a collection of quotes and his “scribblings”, which I haven’t had time to peruse yet. Look forward to hearing more from your book too!

    1. I would love the book you’ve described, Cathy! I haven’t come across any books that isolate Muir’s quotes and sayings in one little volume. He was an amazing man, and I’ve know of his work for decades, of course, and I actually thought I “knew” him quite well. It’s only been very recently that I realized how much more I didn’t know! I’m enjoying filling in the gaps. 🙂

  4. virginiahildreth

    What a nice insomnia-induced walk in a familiar place. Thanks! I’d be rain-dancing for you right about now, but I realize you’ve been doing that yourself… congratulations on a job well danced!

  5. I hope you get the rain you need and not the side effects you don’t need! What a beautiful place! And can you imagine the kind of world we would live in now, if it weren’t for the good works of the few to save and maintain the beauty that comes here naturally? That many don’t give any regard to and damage in the process????

    1. I have been reading about the differences between conservationists and preservationists. It’s a funny dialogue, because there are differences, yes, but in both there is a respect and regard for the environment, and that sets them apart from the majority, I fear. I think Muir is such an interesting role model. I am enjoying learning more about him. And a bigger storm is headed our way. I hope it hangs around a little while. 🙂

  6. dandyknife

    “I am quite certain that after reading this book I won’t be able to contain myself.” What are you planning to do once you become uncontained? Sounds like it’ll be an enjoyable, enlightening read.

    1. You gave me a good laugh with this one! Some people when “unconfined” become the life of the party! I have a feeling that my experience is quite the opposite. My excitement at the John Muir book and what I hope to learn will be very entertaining to ME, but I run the risk of enthusiastically boring others! It’s been known to happen. hahaha!

  7. I am glad to hear that you’ve had to dust off your umbrella. We all owe a debt of gratitude to John Muir (and Teddy Roosevelt) for reminding us that we are part of nature and need to protect its magnificent contribution to our health and well-being. Enjoy the book!

    1. It’s true about John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt, and a number of very forward thinking individuals who were willing to stand up against Robber Barons and political heavy-weights. We owe them so much. And many of the lessons they tried to teach are still valuable today–and they still seem to divide interests. I hope my book arrives quickly. It would be great reading for this rainy weekend! 🙂

  8. I’ve never spent time in southern California, except for a layover once at LAX. Those mountains are stunning. Thank god you are going to get some rain and the umbrella gets to come out of the closet. Enjoy the showers, my friend.

    Hugs from Ecuador,

    1. Thanks, Kathy! I hope someday you might see California from more than LAX…but at this point, you have such a lovely country to call home, you may not travel this way again! We will enjoy our rainy weekend. I’m really quite excited. LOL!

  9. I wish I could box up all of our excess snow and ship it out to you! A caution about umbrellas — they get lost. You take them somewhere and leave them there to enjoy the afternoon. I have given up on umbrellas completely and use raincoats with waterproof hoods. Of course my ever practical husband has a huge one that I can hover under in a real downpour. He never leaves his anywhere but in his car.

    1. Mother Nature sure has her own ideas about how weather patterns are going to flow this season, doesn’t she, Kate? I have several umbrellas, but they’re stashed all over the house in closets, I think. They get buried! LOL! If these winters continue as they have this year, perhaps there will one day be an engineering marvel that works like a pipeline connecting coasts and we can unburden you of some of your snow. I want to see where all that snow goes when it melts. It seems like a waste for you to keep it all to yourselves. LOL!

  10. So good to hear that there is rain, blessed rain, there, Debra, and that you are enjoying the moments of it. Frigidly cold here, again, with more snow to come. Like katecrimmins, above, I wish I could box up our snow and send it your way. I think it was Perpetua at Perpetually in Transit who said she will need a new umbrella for all the rain they have gotten this winter is wearing theirs out. It seems this polar vortex is giving them all your rain. One of the independent coffee shops here has concocted a drink they are calling a polar vortex. hehe I love the creativity that comes out of difficulty. Alas, I digress, as I often do. Enjoy that rain, Debra, and those beautiful San Gabriel Mountains. Here’s hoping John Muir is in your reading hands soon.

    1. I enjoy the way the meteorologists find new ways to describe weather, don’t you? I’d love to know where “polar vortex” came from. Was that just sitting in the meteorological dictionary waiting for a winter such as this? Or did someone just think it up and it stuck. LOL! Great name for a coffee drink, however. That was clever marketing. 🙂 We did enjoy light rain last night, but the “BIG ONE” is due sometime in the night and may last through Saturday. That would just be incredible. It is definitely the talk of the town! I am sorry to hear that you have such a frigid storm front once again, Penny. Enough really is enough!

  11. Vegas is getting some of your rain (…and Mt. Charleston is getting a bunch of fresh snow – above 8,000′). Hope your rain lasts a bit longer than forecast. I know you guys need it.

    p.s. I love that area so much. One of my fondest hiking memories was my climb of Mt. San Jacinto last May. It was my longest (mileage) and highest altitude hikes to date, and holds a special place in my heart.
    p.p.s. Here is how John Muir described it: “The view from San Jacinto is the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this earth!”[

    1. How cool that you climbed Mt. San Jacinto! That must have been so exciting. I haven’t done any hiking in the San Jacinto mountains, but we have a little place where we do camp just below Idyllwild. They’ve had some nasty fires, too, in recent years. Southern Califonria offers some spectacular mountain ranges with some great trails, and I’d like to enjoy them more often!

  12. I read about the water consumption in Calif that 90% of the water is used for agriculture. I wonder how the agriculture will survive in the near future if… Texas is not better.

    1. The farmer’s are really suffering, Amy, and I wonder if in time we will experience a shift in economical strength. I will say that there appears to be evidence that food prices are going to go up. I have a good friend who lives in Texas so I follow the weather and other conditions in your state as closely as I can. I think there are some tremendous challenges ahead for much of the nation if the weather patterns continue to be so extreme!

      1. The extreme weather pattern is worrisome. Cattle and farms in Texas have been hurting for the past few years, it’s not getting better. We were supposed to get a inch rain this week, but only 0.2 in some areas 😕

    1. I got so excited when I came across the title about John Muir and Southern California, Lori. I hope it’s at the library perhaps as early as tomorrow. You’re familiar with Vroman’s books in Pasadena I’m sure. Apparently A.C. Vroman and Muir were friends, too. So many interesting little connections. I’m having fun piecing it together. The change in weather is really something wonderful. 🙂

  13. Great post Debra. You always include interesting snippets of history: I didn’t know John Muir’s connection to the San Gabriels.

    I really enjoyed watching the video. It sounds like a great hike at 9.5 miles and with +3,000 ft elevation – we’ve done part of it – 6 miles around Hoegees Camp. When I saw there was a waterfall I was already lacing on my hiking boots.

  14. I heard the weather report last night for California. It doesn’t look good. They are predicting too much rain now! I lived in the San Fernando Valley for 9 months years ago and the thought was that an earthquake would literally separate California from the rest of the country. I think that thought might be replaced by a mudslide instead! Here in Indianapolis, we’ve had record snow for this winter. Normally we get 19″ of snow a season. This year we had over 51″ and they are predicting 2 more snowstorms for this weekend! People here are so sick of snow – even the weather personalities look like something the cat dragged in! I spent one day shoveling for 1 1/2 hours just for my driveway. I ran out of places to put the snow. Two women in my neck of the woods in their 70’s died from shoveling the snow. I wonder how much worse these weather patterns are going to get. I know the weather people have warned us about these weather pattern changes but how long are they going to last and will they be permanent? Businesses have suffered because people don’t come out and drivers have had flat tires (my son included) because of all the pot holes. They can’t fill them fast enough because it seems like as soon as they fill them, more pop up in the same area. I’ve hit a few myself and so far I’ve been lucky. I try to drive slower in the areas where I know pot holes lurk but when you have younger drivers behind you or impatient drivers, you’re lucky they don’t rear end you or worse. So far, the city reimburses drivers who register a complaint about a flat tire which I think is very nice. I wonder how many people know about it though. Well, I’m going to go grocery shopping now. I try to stay ahead of each snowstorm by grocery shopping before one hits. I wouldn’t want to be driving out there grocery shopping when the streets are snowy and icy. I hope the predicted rain in CA is spread out over time and not all at once. Thank you for all your nice comments on my blog ; – )

    1. Marcella, this is really sad news to hear about weather-related deaths! I think those of us on the dry west coast really don’t know what it would be like to factor snow (blizzards) and weather extremes into our life patterns! We take for granted just getting into our cars, first thing in the morning with no ice and no need to warm up, and take off! But since you’ve lived here in the greater Los Angeles area, you do know about our terrible congestion and other traffic-related issues. And I don’t know why we have so many potholes, but we do, too! Your comment about earthquakes is close to my heart. I try as hard as I can to NOT think about those! Thank you for stopping by and saying “hello.” I appreciate your sharing. 🙂

  15. Debra, one thing I pondered on as I watched the video on hiking… A long time ago, there was no real sport “hiking” in this southern California region. It was just surviving. No Nikes, no pre-made paths to follow, no cell phones or rescue helicopters, no backpacks… Well, they may have had mules if they could afford one. Native Americans likely went about in moccasins? Not that I’m stereotyping but that’s all I can remember from my textbooks.

    It poured for about four or five minutes here after midnight but not much more since then. Oh well.

    Very nice photographs, too!

    1. I think we must have enjoyed a little more rain than you received, Koji. We are close to the foothills. I’m really hoping that the BIG one we’re waiting for hasn’t been over-hyped. I’m expecting something worth the wait. 🙂 You’re right about the nature trails. I hadn’t given it much thought until I started reading about how John Muir loved the San Gabriels, and I think he must have walked! I’m glad you enjoyed the photos. Thank you!

  16. Glad to hear you had some rain. We’ve been having some snow every day – from a little to a lot – and more to come over the next several days. I’m beginning to think spring is nothing more than a myth! Wish I could melt the snow and send it over to you! 🙂

    1. One of the bloggers I enjoy recently wrote at the end of her post, “I can’t take it any more.” LOL! She was talking about the harsh winter! I honestly don’t know if I can say “I can imagine!” But I think there will never be a more welcomed spring.:-)

  17. So glad to hear about your rain, Debra, though I do hope it goes on falling gently rather than in damaging storms. Having to deal with mudslides after fire and drought must be horrible. I really enjoyed your video with its marvellous views of those spectacular mountains as well as the wonderful canyon forest scenery. Rather different from the Welsh hills I’m used to. 🙂 I look forward to learning more about John Muir’s life and achievements once you’ve had chance to read and digest the book.

    1. I would suspect the San Gabriels are pretty rugged compared to your beautiful green hills, Perpetua. I drove up into the mountains this afternoon and took a few pictures to share soon of the scrub brush and boulders. I really enjoy comparing the natural beauty of different regions around the globe. We really do have a beautiful world, don’t we? We enjoyed a light rain last night, but the BIG one is due in sometime in the next few hours and it’s supposed to be a doozy! I hope they haven’t “over-hyped” it! LOL!

  18. “The whole world’s in a terrible state of chassis,” as Captain Jack Boyle said, more than once during Sean O’Casey’s great play, Juno & the Paycock. I am talking about the weather all across the world right now.

    1. I’m not familiar with Sean O’Casey’s play, GM, but I do believe the sentiment! I wonder if this “season” we are all experiencing is just one strange aberration, or is this going to be our new normal? I think our drought has some very serious ramifications, but in the day to day, we are quite comfortable. We aren’t experiencing the freezing temperatures I read about, so my complaints, if I would even call them that, are more about concern for the future. In all, I find it fascinating…but “a terrible state of chassis” is pretty right on!

  19. Unfortunately, I do not see any efforts of conservation and I hope that what little sprinkles we had doesn’t give everyone the illusion that we are in the clear now. The photos of Folsom Lake are shockingly disturbing! Happy conserving everyone!

    1. I don’t see the conservation efforts either, Cristina! I almost said more about that in my post and I had to laugh at myself…I start to sound disgusted. LOL! I saw those Folsom Lake photos, too, and they are really incredible! I know this current week’s rain isn’t going to do much to the overall problem, but it is sure lovely! It somehow makes me feel hopeful…if only for a few days. 🙂

  20. I am looking forward to learning more about Muir’s connection to Southern California. When I lived in north Pasadena, I would go out in our backyard and watch the sun rise over the San Gabriel mountains. We spent a lot of time in those mountains back in the 1980s.

    1. Thank you for sharing about your north Pasadena connection, Inger. I knew you’d lived somewhere close. 🙂 I had an extra hour today between appointments and not enough time to go home after work, so I drove up to Chantry Flats just to see what the view was like after the rain. I think we are so fortunate to have mountains so close–a lovely place to escape sometimes, don’t you agree?

  21. Woohoo for rain, Debra. Sorry to be so late reading today.

    Muir did so much to protect and preserve California. Who knows what it might look like today without him. We can look at other places and see how things can disappear and be destroyed. Here’s to more rain and umbrella usage in your future.

    1. It was so beautiful today, Andra. It only rained in the night, so everything was washed clean and bright for today. The BIG storm hits tonight. I hope it rains all weekend. 🙂 I am finding so many interesting little local connections to Muir that tell me I’ve just skimmed the surface of a very fascinating man. Thank you for taking the time to read this today, Andra. You have just got to be incredibly busy! oxo

  22. Always learn so much from you Debra about a part of north America I know little about. Also I now have a greater appreciation of the endless rains of my city, Vancouver…better too much of that life-giving liquid than too little…

    1. Thank you,John. I am so glad you learn something new about California from what I am able to share. I am always so interested in how Southern California is portrayed in the media, and there is just so much more. And yes indeed! Cherish every drop of that wonderful moisture. 🙂

  23. ramblingtart

    I’m so glad that you’re getting at least a little bit of rain. We’re having a drought in my part of Australia as well and it is hard and scary to see everything withered and parched. Wishing us both a good drenching soon. 🙂

    1. Thank you for stopping by! I’m glad to hear from you. I have been following drought and fires in Australia and often think we have a lot in common. I was doing a google search for some drought-related information and the first search directed me to a news release in Australia. I was reading for a minute before I realized it wasn’t California! You’re right–we both need a good drenching! 🙂 Here’s hoping. 🙂

  24. I loved the video. The scenery is stunning. I do hope you get some rain. We always hear about CA being a very dry place that’s always had water issues. We have a lot of draught in Australia right now but currently in Sydney we’re having a week of rain – but the poor farmers never seem to get it xx

  25. I am glad you are getting rain, Debra, hope it continues! We’ve had rain and snow. When we had a snowstorm of just a few inches here in Oregon there were accidents; residents are not used to driving or managing snow as we do back in the East Coast. The photos

  26. Oh, my, sometimes you just can’t win, can you? Not enough rain and yet now too much rain. I hope you don’t have any issues with mudflows. It’s funny, I never thought of that, but it makes total sense that the resulting devastation after a fire has the potential for this!

  27. John Muir needs to be reincarnated! We need more of him to every generations to deal with our nature problems. He’s such an amazing figure, idol.

  28. Pingback: Look who I found nosing around…more San Gabriel Mountain adventures | breathelighter

  29. I think I would love the San Gabriel Valley and Mountains just as much as you – something about mountain scenery, it’s scale the way it takes your eyes up and down….. just love them. and I hope you get the rain you need without catastrophe. x

  30. Debra, I’ve been very inspired by John Muir’s life and writing on many occasions. I’m going to have to go see if I can find one of his books in my library. I’m fairly sure I have a few of his books in my home. Debra, thank you for your blog, I always feel like I’m learning something new from you about California history! Have a great week! Karen

    1. Muir was a good friend with Teddy Roosevelt. And I’ve since learned that TR spent a lot of time in our area, too, and I’d like to know more about that. I don’t actually know that much about Jacob Riis. I’ll need to learn more about him. Thanks for mentioning his name, Carl.

  31. I’m coming across this post at the end of September, and those couple of drizzly days in February were about the last rain we’ve had in LA! Yikes. I watched the video you included on the hike in the San Gabriels. Then I clicked around on some of his other hike videos. Terrific. Makes me want to get off my arse this weekend. I think, though, that the flat sands of Santa Monica beach are calling to me.

    1. Did you enjoy the few minutes of rain this morning? Although brief, I enjoyed every minute! I’m so glad you watched some of the hiking videos. I am not much of a hiker, but I do love to get up in the San Gabriels and just explore a bit. 🙂 I really found the John Muir connection a lovely surprise.

I always enjoy hearing from you!

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