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Exploring the San Gabriel River's West Fork

Last week the Departures production crew headed out on a little field trip eastward to the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains in Azusa. As an introduction to our exploration of the San Gabriel River, we were on a mission to find out as much as we could by experiencing it firsthand.

Up windy roads through the Angeles National Forest -- where packs of cyclists made their way up the dedicated bike path -- we found our way to the former El Encanto Restaurant, now home to the Azusa River Wilderness Park. There we met with two experts who would guide us through our introduction to the San Gabriel River: Fabiola Lao from the Sierra Club, and Annette Kondo from the Wilderness Society. As part of the San Gabriel Mountains Forever coalition, they work to preserve the natural habitats of what is one of the largest green spaces in Southern California, while extending its purposes for recreational use.

We began at the Hilda L. Solis Outlook, named after the former State Senator, U.S. Representative, and U.S. Secretary of Labor, whose advocacy for environmental justice has been crucial in the preservation of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Photo by Yosuke Kitazawa
Photo by Yosuke Kitazawa
Photo by Yosuke Kitazawa
Photo by Yosuke Kitazawa
Departures producer Juan Devis with Annette Kondo of the Wilderness Society | Photo by Yosuke Kitazawa
Departures producer Juan Devis with Annette Kondo of the Wilderness Society | Photo by Yosuke Kitazawa

After a short drive uphill past Morris Dam, an area set aside for off-roading, and the San Gabriel Dam, we arrived at the mouth of the West Fork of the San Gabriel River. From there, a tranquil 6.2-mile paved trail leads to Cogswell Dam and an adjacent campground, where one can enjoy a secluded piece of nature, only a few miles from the stress of city life.

Unfortunately, that proximity also means that it doesn't take much for urban nuisance to make its way up to the mountains. Many of the rocks at the entrance to the East Fork trail were covered in graffiti, surrounded by empty plastic bags and discarded food wrappings -- which will all eventually find their way to the ocean.

Photo by Rubi Fregoso
Photo by Rubi Fregoso
Photo by Rubi Fregoso
Photo by Rubi Fregoso
Photo by Rubi Fregoso
Photo by Rubi Fregoso
Photo by Yosuke Kitazawa
Photo by Yosuke Kitazawa
Photo by Yosuke Kitazawa
Photo by Yosuke Kitazawa
Photo by Yosuke Kitazawa
Photo by Yosuke Kitazawa

Wildflower season is upon us, and we spotted a few varieties of native flora along the route.

Photo by Yosuke Kitazawa
Photo by Yosuke Kitazawa
Photo by Yosuke Kitazawa
Photo by Yosuke Kitazawa
Photo by Juan Devis
Photo by Juan Devis
Photo by Yosuke Kitazawa
Photo by Yosuke Kitazawa
Photo by Justin Cram
Photo by Justin Cram
Photo by Yosuke Kitazawa
Photo by Yosuke Kitazawa

As Woodsy Owl reminded us to keep our forest clean, we carefully climbed down a slight hill past some poison ivy towards the riverbed. To our surprise, we came upon a small waterfall, which is a rare sight in the usually dry spring season, as Annette reminded us.

Photo by Yosuke Kitazawa
Photo by Yosuke Kitazawa
Photo by Rubi Fregoso
Photo by Rubi Fregoso
Photo by Yosuke Kitazawa
Photo by Yosuke Kitazawa
Photo by Rubi Fregoso
Photo by Rubi Fregoso
Photo by Yosuke Kitazawa
Photo by Yosuke Kitazawa
Photo by Yosuke Kitazawa
Photo by Yosuke Kitazawa
Photo by Yosuke Kitazawa
Photo by Yosuke Kitazawa
Photo by Yosuke Kitazawa
Photo by Yosuke Kitazawa
Photo by Yosuke Kitazawa
Photo by Yosuke Kitazawa

We couldn't make it to the end of the West Fork due to time constraints (and a little bit of fatigue...), but we got a great sense of what the San Gabriel River is all about, from its history as essentially the birthplace of Los Angeles, to its preservation concerns related to the Wilderness Act, and finally the struggles to maintain its recreational use. Next time we will head out to the East Fork of the river -- and we hope to get somewhere by reaching the Bridge to Nowhere.

So that was our San Gabriel River story -- what is yours?

Tell us your San Gabriel River story here.