Did you know the newest National Monument is practically in my backyard?

Despite the fact that so many, maybe most, define Southern California in terms of undisputed cacophony and congestion created by more than 22 million people living on top of each other, I can tune that out because I make it a practice to tune IN to a different frequency.


My well-being depends on frequently lifting myself out of all that noise. And in the last few days I’ve had several opportunities to be reminded that if I want to listen just a little harder, I can tune in to an abundant natural world that also co-exists with the very same noise and congestion.


One encounter with “the wild” caused me to reflect on John Muir’s words, “None of Nature’s landscapes are ugly so long as they are wild.”

You be the judge!  Just a week ago my water lilies were beautiful!

Thrashed water lilies

I wonder if the goldfish not previously eaten by a marauding heron fulfilled their purpose as dinner for one BIG and Hungry raccoon? I can’t find a one…gone!

Then just two days later the girls and I were caught off-guard, startled when our backyard hedge burst open as a young hawk came out of nowhere. Was he actually hiding in the shrubbery eyeing the bird feeder? I think our close proximity, and Zena’s sniffing around, interrupted his plans.  Later in the re-telling, Karina added a little extra to the story replacing the hawk with an eagle as the central character. She tells good stories.

Every encounter with urban nature gives me a thrill. I am caught in wonder just knowing “they” are out there. Lately that’s been almost every night. The dog knows when the opossum or raccoon or skunk is out in the backyard and won’t rest, or let us rest either, until the animals pass through, but I still try to be as welcoming as possible.

I’m not alone. There isn’t exactly an urban wildlife movement, but wildlife hospitable initiatives once dismissed by the U.S. Forest Service as ridiculous–“nothing urban can be wild,” are proliferating in cities all over the world.


And to round out my delight this week, I’ve been clapping my hands in glee since October 10th, last Friday, when a large portion of the San Gabriel Mountains, the mountains I share with mountain lions, California Condors, yellow-legged frogs, big horn sheep, bear and hundreds of species of small animals, received a Presidential designation as the newest National Monument.


The designation offers significant protection against future gas and oil leasing as well as protecting against private development. Thirty percent of our water comes from these mountains, and the area is home to more than 600 archaeological sites preserving evidence of more than 8,000 years of human history. The mountains were home to the indigenous people, the Tongva-Gabrielinos, until the Spanish Mission period.

Of course there are some loud and unhappy voices, too, but the President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation praised the local communities who have fought for fifteen years to see this day.

John Muir spent time in these beautiful mountains and wrote:

“In the mountains of San Gabriel, overlooking the lowland vines and fruit groves, Mother Nature is most ruggedly, thornily savage…But in the very heart of this thorny wilderness, down in the dells, you may find gardens filled with the fairest flowers, that any child would love, and unapproachable linns lined with lilies and ferns, where the ousel builds its mossy hut and sings in chorus with the white falling water. Bears, also and panthers, wolves, wildcats; wood rats, squirrels, foxes, snakes, and innumerable birds, all find grateful homes here, adding wildness to wildness in glorious profusion and variety.”

And now the San Gabriels are a National Monument. I always knew they were special.


64 thoughts on “Did you know the newest National Monument is practically in my backyard?

    1. Isn’t it fun that Southern California has a new National Monument? I think the best part of the event has been to learn how many people have spent decades working at the grass roots level to see this day. Isn’t that encouraging? It was no quick process. 🙂 I hope you had a good weekend and now on to a new week!

  1. Wow, wonderful news ~ and fantastic views ~ Debra! Thank you so much for sharing your urban wildlife with us ~ my impression of your part of the world has been formed by the ‘cacophony and congestion’ portrayed in movies and on T.V. It’s a really valuable skill to be able to tune that out and focus on the natural world ~ thank you for the fascinating tour of your surroundings and thier background history. We live on the outskirts of a small County Town but our urban garden is inhabited by slow~worms, a hedgehog or two and several frogs and toads ~ as well quite a few different species of birds. The other morning Martin found a frog in the kitchen ~ we figured it had hopped in when I let Indie out first thing, (she would definitely have alerted us if it had been there all night!) That evening it was right outside the back door when she went out for her last stroll around the courtyards ~ clearly waiting to come back in! I love these indications that nature will do it’s utmost to survive and thrive, no matter where! 🙂

    1. I really enjoyed your comment, Jacqueline, because you captured the essence of what delights me the most about our urban wildlife. The idea that “nature will do its utmost to survive and thrive, no matter where” is what puts a smile on my face when we have a little “critter action” in our backyard–even when the animals create havoc. I love that they’re so close, and it is absolutely always a surprise to me because we really do live near busy streets and lots of human activity. I am very aware of the way Southern California, maybe all of California is portrayed in movies and television. It’s not that those images aren’t accurate–they are–but there is also so much more. I think that most people who haven’t visited can’t understand how big the state is. I think I figured out one time that 17 smaller states on the east coast comfortably fit inside California. So some areas are very congested, but there is still a lot of open land, too. And whenever possible, that’s where I go–open land. And if I can’t get there, I pretend I am there. Ha! It does sound to me like where you live must be very beautiful and you don’t have to work quite so hard to have breathing room! And the little frogs and toads would be special, but I want a hedge hog! Now that would be fun! I hope you have a wonderful week, my friend.

  2. Such good news, Debra ! 🙂 That must be something indeed wonderful for you who are on the doorstep. I’ll be taking a train to our nearest ‘mountains’ the weekend after this one – and it will take me nearly 2 hours …
    So goodonyer, and goodonObama !

    1. I have completely understood your concerns as you look out over the harbor and see developments “eating up” your view, M-R. Each time you’ve mentioned it or shown a picture of the “before” and “after” I’ve related to that and understood how that feels. It seems that every square inch in some of our cities is gobbled up by development and I can feel like I’m suffocating. I have had the San Gabriel mountains to see from almost anywhere in the San Gabriel Valley and they represent “breathing room” to me. I was so delighted to see them given special recognition! I hope you have a wonderful train trip and time in the mountains–will this be with your sister?

  3. I didn’t realise the population of LA is the same as the population in Oz – and we think we’re crowded! I love the look of this park and it’s great it’s become a national monument. They are truly very special. Thank you so much for your beautiful comments on my blog. I appreciate them more than you know. I love how kind and caring you are and how you appreciate and acknowledge this relationship with the girl from Oz. I feel the same way about you and I do hope to be in LA for long enough next time to be able to meet in person xx

    1. Fortunately those population statistics are for the whole of Southern California and not just the Los Angeles region, Charlie, although, as you’ve seen, we ARE a crowded place. We need to keep our eyes on the places that offer us open space and the refreshment that comes from spending time outdoors,enjoying natural settings. I wish there was more effort to halt population growth in California, but that seems to be a lost cause! Despite the strain on our resources, we are just expected to keep expanding. I’ll never understand that. So I keep my spirits buoyed by finding the places where I can refresh! And I would just love to spend some time with you when you return to Los Angeles. It always makes me happy just to know your sister is here. LOL! You just let me know…we will make it happen. oxo

  4. Now I know!! 🙂

    And we’ve got plenty of urban wildlife. The deer are close to people numbers. They sense a safeness here in town, I think. THough cars are the number one predator in town I think the deer population has realized there is no one shooting at them in the small urban sprawl here. Not to mention a creek runs through our town situated home and the smaller critters are in abundance here.

    Congratulations to those who have been trying to save the mountains. They are worth saving. For us all.

    1. We see the deer in the foothills and I get so thrilled, Colleen. But they aren’t down around where we live. I get excited with an opossum or raccoon. LOL! The San Gabriel foothills have been scarred in many places as homes continue to just extend the boundaries of foothills. Although the entire range wasn’t set apart as a National Monument, I’m hoping the recognition will at least slow the growth of development along the entire range. I may be overly optimistic, but I can hope. 🙂 Have a wonderful weekend, Colleen.

    1. I often wonder, Lori, what do I miss in my own backyard when I’m at work? I have a feeling there is more than I ever see. I laughed at Karina’s “eagle” but also remembered that when we were in Morro Bay and I saw a turkey vulture fly by my first thought was “Condor.” I was a little let down when I realized it was just a buzzard! LOL!

  5. Beautiful! I was happy to see those mountains protected too. I didn’t realize how close they are to where you live. Lovely pictures of the wild in your urban area too!

    1. I have always referred to the San Gabriel Mountains as “mine,” Karen. LOL! I talk to them on the way into work every morning. They’re so beautiful and I’m delighted they have some added protections. I didn’t realize how many archaeological sites were in this particular range. I knew the importance of the mountains to the early indigenous people, but I didn’t know how much evidence of their history was still evident. I thought that was exciting to learn. We owe Teddy Roosevelt a great deal of credit for proclamations that protect some of our natural beauty. I’m greedy, though. I’d like to see more land and open space set apart for the same protections. 🙂 I hope you have a wonderful weekend, Karen. ox

  6. How spectacular… and wow, sounds like a place I’d love to explore… need some bear photos etc… love the heron and goldfish… that is a special capture…

    1. I’m just terrified of the bear, Rob. We have friends living in the foothills who literally share space with the bear and have to be very careful. Knowing how close they are keeps me from getting out there and exploring the trails. I’m “chicken” and need an experienced guide. The heron and goldfish in the backyard was so serendipitous. I was actually sitting right there! He ate two of the fish and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! 🙂

  7. That is wonderful news! Your yard sounds like it should be a designated area too. As for my back yard, I think they already made it one and no one told me. “They say” animals gravitate toward lands that are protected to avoid hunters. They just know or perhaps they read the papers. I find all sorts of critters in my back yard!

    1. I often wonder, Kate, what I miss in my yard by being at work and often not home to observe. Spending more time observing is high on my list of things I want to do when I retire. I’d love to just sit outdoors with a cup of coffee and my camera. I feel so sorry about the fish, but at the same time I’m kind of pleased the raccoon had a meal! I suppose I’m conflicted. 🙂 Have a wonderful weekend, Kate.

  8. Once in awhile the powers that be get something right! How wonderful to protect one more patch of wildness, and how great that you can see it (I think) from home. Loved re-visiting the heron and the goldfish, too. 🙂

    1. Yes, Karen, I can see the mountains from my home. I have to look between trees, but I can see them.I am enjoying all the attention the new designation has brought to the San Gabriels. We probably have more “nighttime marauders” than I’m even aware of, but that heron was very bold and approached the pond while we were sitting right there. I still shake my head…I had never seen one of these black-crowned herons and don’t think they’re very common in Southern California. Certainly I had never seen one before. I often wonder what I’m missing while at work. Than you so much for the nice visit. 🙂

    1. The President was at a local park to sign the declaration and I contemplated going just to say I was there…I should have done that for blog purposes! 🙂 I was also sure it was a zoo of people. But this has been very exciting to me, Fiona!

  9. dandyknife

    Congratulations, Debra. E.g. and I were so impressed with the American park system when we were in Oregon, I’m sure this newest region will be equally well safeguarded. Hurrah!

    1. It is encouraging to me every time I learn that a beautiful region is going to be safeguarded against development. I have always called these San Gabriel Mountains mine! I still feel that way…even thought they’re now a National Monument. I hope you and E.g. have a wonderful weekend. 🙂

  10. It really does look beautiful Debra. You have some fantastic photos of the mountains! I am sure John Muir would be pleased with this news as well. Congratulations!

    1. Thank you, Cathy. I only learned a couple of years ago that John Muir had strong ties to Pasadena and had written specifically about the San Gabriel Mountains. I was so thrilled when I learned that. This particular range of mountains is so much a part of our daily view that I have always loved them. In the early morning or late afternoon they are just gorgeous. And once in a very great while there is even some snow! That is always exciting to see–not too often! Have a wonderful weekend, my friend. ox

  11. Sorry the critters cleaned out your goldfish ~ but what a spectacular photo of the hungry heron helping himself to the Sushi Bar. That’s great about the National Monument designation. It looks like a wonderful place to hike . . . as long as the mountain lions don’t want me to pet them.

    1. I’ll tell you, Nancy, the bear come down really low into neighborhoods at the base of the mountain. One of my friends has them in her yard all the time…I’m not a very ambitious hiker for the very reason that I’m scared to death of the animals. I keep trying to get my nephew, and experienced hiker, to take me out, which I might enjoy. I wish I weren’t such a scaredy-cat! 🙂 Now I’m VERY brave in my own backyard. LOL!

      1. Your response made me smile. We did lots of hiking in NC, Maine, Vermont, and PA without encountering anything scarier than a snake . . . but I could run faster back then.

        These days I’d be cautious about hiking around bears or bobcats. Walking on the beach is usually a safe bet.

  12. Isn’t it exciting? Our mountains don’t lend themselves well to development anyway…you have to admire the way they take care of themselves…but there is plenty of scarring that I am more than happy to see stop.

    1. It is thrilling Janine! I don’t know that I have felt the mountains were particularly endangered right now, but the homes creeping up into the foothills are always a concern. And I wonder about in the future. When I read that the proclamation guards against drilling for gas or oil, I was just glad that at least a part of the San Gabriels is not vulnerable. Hope you’re doing well…and that beautiful baby, too! It’s good to hear from you. 🙂

    1. We all owe Teddy Roosevelt so much for his vision and insight and giving our Presidents a way to protect some of our open land and wilderness. I only recently learned how many years Conservancy and grass roots groups have been working to petition for this particular National Monument status and it always pleases me to see what individuals–patient individuals–can do! Hope you have a good weekend, Frank!

  13. Woo Hoo!! Congratulations, Debra, and everyone else in and around San Gabriel. I’m itching to come back and hike there. I’ve only done Runyon Canyon, and it was kind of crowded. 🙂

    Very sorry about your goldfish. MTM ‘s mom had a stocked pond…….until an otter found it. It’s really hard to watch Animal Kingdom happen in one’s backyard.

    1. I can’t claim to have been much of a hiker around here, Andra, but I keep asking my nephew and a few hiker buddies to take me out! I’m not about to get out on a trail by myself…I’ll get lost! 🙂 I can’t imagine the surprise of having an otter find a backyard pond! That’s quite a story. I really felt so sorry about my fish, but knowing the raccoon was hungry I kind of rested with the idea that the goldfish weren’t going to live much longer anyway. We wouldn’t have known exactly what happened except that Zena was crying at the door in the middle of the night. She knew something was taking place! Next time you’re visiting we’ll have to visit the San Gabriels and take a nice hike. 🙂 I know how busy you are, but I hope this weekend gives you just a little breathing room. oxo

  14. Isn’t it thrilling to know that National Monuments are still being designated, twice the better to have one so close to your home. It is good for Southern Californians – and good for the rest of us as well. I think our Katy did some hiking there. Need to ask her now. 🙂 That must have been quite a sight to see that hawk soar through. For some reason, we, and several others, we seeing hawks this past weekend, very close to the roads. They must be saving up for winter.

    1. But did you have an “Eagle” pop out of your fence? LOL! So funny! We had another hawk yesterday, too, Penny, so maybe they have a “clock” telling them to eat up now while they can. It always interests me that although our climate won’t dip too low in winter, we won’t see that many birds in our yard until spring. I always wonder why that is? I keep putting food out. So the hawks would be more limited, too, I guess! And you’re so right about the National Monument designations are good for all of us. The more I learn about our Presidents the more I have a deep appreciation for Teddy Roosevelt. You’ll have to ask Katy if she did some hiking in the San Gabriels. The trails above Fuller are really good hiking trails–from what I hear. LOL! I can’t claim I know them very well. 🙂 Hope you have a wonderful weekend, my friend. I’m sure you will.

    1. It always makes me so pleased to think of how well you know Southern California, Lori. I think you may know more trails in the San Gabriels than I do–in fact, I’m sure! How wonderful to think of your dad’s special relationship to the local mountains and to know that those trails and areas you enjoyed with him will be better protected! ox

  15. A lovely and optimistic post Debra (except for the goldfish!). I always learn so much about your corner of the world from your fabulous photographs and entertaining writing and this is no exception. Excellent news all that beauty is now protected, it’s heart warming to read something positive happening in our world.

    1. Thank you very much, John. I really enjoy sharing. I know that Los Angeles and vicinity is often “reduced” to its lowest image, and yet there is much that can be appreciated and celebrated, and I do enjoy sharing those elements. The local mountains have been a strong focal point in my life since I was a child. My children tell me that every time we got in the car (when they were young) I commented “Oh look at the mountains today.” I didn’t even realize I did that. LOL! So I guess I have been wanting them to be protected for a very long time. I hope you have a good weekend, John. 🙂

  16. California surely has much to offer with respect to wilderness or nature – wild or urban. I have noticed it myself – also in Southern California. Congratulations then with your backyard becoming a national monument. Lovely images by the way of the nature in and around you backyard.

    1. Thank you, Otto. I’m so pleased about the special designation bestowed on the local mountains because it ensures they will not be “carved” out in new development. I think in such a heavily populated region it is particularly important that open land be protected. A lot of people have worked hard for many years to get to this place. 🙂

    1. I do feel I have a very personal relationship with the San Gabriel Mountains, Karen. 🙂 It’s great fun to think they’ve been chosen for a special “award.” LOL! And I’m trying to decide if I want to add more fish or not. I’m very conflicted. I sure won’t until next spring when the lilies come back…the poor fish would have no protection–not that the lilies helped them much this time. I like the “prettier” aspects of nature much more than living with the reality of the food chain. LOL! Have a great weekend, Karen!

  17. They are special, Debbie! And that first view of them you show is majestic 🙂
    It’s possible to get such pleasure out of simple things, isn’t it? We don’t have a huge amount of wildlife around here but a glimpse of a squirrel has me beaming from ear to ear.
    Happy weekend to you! 🙂

    1. That’s so right, Jo. Just the little things can be so exhilarating and lift us out of the every day. We just have to pay attention. I feel like the weekend just flew by, but I’m looking forward to a new week. I hope you have a good one, too! 🙂

  18. Well, isn’t that wonderful, Debra? It’s always a good thing to see part of the country set aside, preserved in as close to its natural state as possible, for the Future. The fact that this latest “rescue” is in your own backyard is all the better. You’ll never lose that view you so much enjoy. Now, about that eagle … 🙂

    1. Thank you, John, for sharing in my enthusiasm. The grass-roots lobbying to get the San Gabriel Mountains designated as a National Monument has been ongoing for years, so when it finally came “due” I as completely surprised. I didn’t think it would happen, quite frankly. And we enjoyed an eagle-free weekend. Ha! And now we move on to another week. I hope it is a good one for you, John. 🙂

  19. I am so glad they were protected my friend, and how lucky are you to have them in your backyard! Mountains may be larger than other wildlife but it does not make them any less beautiful! Your photos are a site to behold!

    Choc Chip Uru

  20. My Kitchen Stories

    What wonder ful news that the animals and land is now protected. Its not so often you hear of a good decision these days. Congrates its in your back yard

    1. Thank you, Tania. I feel the same sense of delight that the animals will have the added sanctuary of being spared development in the San Gabriels. They already have a lot to overcome between drought and wildfires! They don’t need the human population to get more entrenched in their habitat. This designation should help. Thank you for visiting. 🙂

  21. How lovely that your special place has been recognised. You must be very patient to welcome all the animals into your garden when they must do a lot of damage. Do the skunks leave behind their terrible smell. I remember when I was on a road trip in the US and being able to smell the skunks from inside the car.

    1. Yes, Christina…the skunks can be quite an annoyance. For a few years we had a little of family of skunks that came every spring to give birth under our house! Seriously! It was quite unpleasant and we weren’t as welcoming–but they didn’t seem to care that we were unhappy. LOL! Ordinarily I do my best not to interfere with nature, but when it comes to skunks, I do try to get them to move on! The smell is really intense and lingers, and at one point, they sprayed under our house and it took months–no exaggeration–for the smell to completely dissipate. So I’m good with raccoons and opossums…maybe not so happy with skunks. 🙂

  22. I am so happy to hear this. I lived in the shadow of these great mountains for several years and spent a lot of time hiking there. Our L.A. house is in the Miracle Mile, right in the city, and we had goldfish in our pond too. One night the dogs went crazy, I looked outside and there they were, a family of raccoons feasting on our poor goldfish.

  23. Debra, I’m truly delighted that your beloved San Gabriel mountains have received this important designation. You must be so thrilled and relieved. There are so many threats to the remaining wilderness in our world that this degree of protection is wonderful news. 🙂

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