Finding the Bridge to Nowhere Along the San Gabriel River

Following our exploration of the West Fork of the San Gabriel River, it was now time for us to conquer the hilly and windy paths along the East Fork of the river, otherwise known as the Bridge to Nowhere hike. At around 9 miles round trip, with numerous river crossings and a bit of an uphill climb once you near the bridge, it is quite a trek for the novice hiker.

The Bridge to Nowhere isn't just a metaphor for failed plans; there actually is a bridge at the end of the trail that literally goes nowhere. The path of the trail, which roughly follows the path of the river, was originally to be the route of the East Fork Road, a highway that would have extended all the way to the Angeles Crest near Wrightwood. Work on the East Fork Road began in 1929, and the bridge was completed in 1936. But the devastating floods of 1938 -- which swelled up the L.A. River as well -- put an end to the plan, as the few miles of paved roads were washed away by the destructive powers of the fast-flowing water. Additional plans were made in the 1950s and the 1960s to once again bring a road to the mountanous terrain -- called Shoemaker Canyon Road -- but was only partially completed, giving it the nickname "The Road to Nowhere."

But the bridge survives, now a popular destination for adventurous hikers as well as bungee jumpers, who can experience a free fall from the historic bridge courtesy of Bungee America.

For this hike we were once again joined by Annette Kondo from the Wilderness Society, who gave us insight on some of the goings on in the mountains, as she had done during our trip to the West Fork.

We also extended an invitation to the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders, a nonprofit volunteer organization that maintains and extends the hiking trails in the San Gabriel Mountains. They are responsible for the hard work that goes in to maintaining functional trails on both the East and West forks of the river and beyond. They weren't able to join us this time, but they did offer some helpful thoughts over the phone prior to the hike.

A newly-installed map marked the start of the trail, which begins a few miles north of Azusa. Native wildflowers and succulents lined the trail, with many yucca flowers towering over our heads.


Some sections of the trail required crossing the riverbed. Most of the crossings were made easier by log bridges and strategically placed rocks that allowed us to keep our shoes dry. But for some points we were on own -- there were no dry crossings, and only the low water level during the summer seasons prevented us from getting soaked waist high, instead of just ankle deep.


It wasn't all natural landscape however, as glimpses of man-made structures reminded us that we were still in close proximity to urban civilization. Remnants of the partially built East Fork Road were still visible in some sections of the trail, including concrete walls and supports for what seemed like elevated roads across the river, and fragments of cement roads. A recently-built John Seales Bridge, the work of the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders, helped us cross the wide gap of the Laurel Gulch.

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Back in the Gold Rush days of the late 1800s, the East Fork of the San Gabriel River was a hotbed of prospecting and panning. Even today it remains a popular location for those who dream of wealth, or perhaps of a simpler time when wealth could potentially be simply gleaned from nature. We came across a man who claimed he found a speck of gold -- though it was hard to see in the bright light.


Interestingly, the area around the actual Bridge to Nowhere is privately owned. On this private property sits several structures that house the equipment for Bungee America, the official bungee operator at the bridge. Looking down from the bridge, we realized how high we had climbed -- high enough to induce vertigo.


The only thing on our minds on the way back for our dehydrated and exhausted selves was to return to the trailhead and replenish ourselves. But we were still clear-headed enough to notice the long-necked rock pattern on Swan Rock, and smart enough to find a pool formed by the river -- an oasis in the middle of the dry heat that we all eagerly jumped in. From there it wasn't long until we arrived back to the beginning, where Annette had a little gift for us -- an ice chest full of water and electrolyte-infused drinks. We were then all brought back to life, and reflected on how this amazing natural resource is right in our own back yards.


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