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The San Gabriels: A Historical Guide to America's 110th National Monument

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Update: On May 5, 2017, the U.S. Department of the Interior released a list of national monuments to be initially "reviewed" by the Secretary of the Interior for possible reduced protections and boundaries. The list, a result of an Executive Order issued by President Donald Trump, features 22 national monuments, including the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. On August 27, 2017 the Secretary released a report that recommended the preservation of the San Gabriel Monument, but may reduce its size. This guide was originally published on October 10, 2014, following its National Monument designation by President Barack Obama.

The San Gabriels have breached the national stratosphere. President Barack Obama has recognized their historic and recreational significance to Los Angeles County, designating 346,177 acres as a National Monument to preserve this crest of American heritage. But few people know the astonishing stories from the past that have led to this moment. Generations of civilizations, from indigenous peoples to the inhabitants of the multiple nations that have ruled over California, have chiseled their lives and passions into the San Gabriels.

Ideological ambitions embodied by the fervor of the "Great Hiking Era," the destructive pursuit of gold, and the shift towards conservation with the establishment of the Angeles National Forest, are just a few examples of a society aligning their tangled aspirations with the mountains' lofty heights. Permanently etched with these symbols of enterprise and innovation, the San Gabriels continue to be sculpted by the dueling hands of desire and necessity.

KCET has constructed a narrative of America's 110th National Monument and its eponymous watercourse, The San Gabriel River. We explore its past and profile its present in three chapters, THE SIERRA MADRE, MOUNTAIN FEVER/BUILDING A FOREST, and WILDERNESS FOR ALL, highlighting the historical and cultural impact of the San Gabriels on one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world.

Click on the images below to read the corresponding sections of each chapter.


The Indigenous Dawn of the San Gabriel Mountains


 The brilliant heritage of the San Gabriel Mountains is largely unknown to millions of Southern Californians. The historical and cultural impact of the mountains' indigenous people is where the astonishing story begins.

Mountain Fortress: Indian Resistance to Mission San Gabriel


 As Spanish missionaries staked their claim to the San Gabriel Valley, the mountains would serve as the last fortress of protection and resistance for the native people.

Battle of Río San Gabriel and American Exploration of the Sierra Madre

 After the United States fought for the conquest of California, sights were set on mapping the economic possibilities of the uncharted San Gabriel Mountains.

Mountain Men: Pioneers and Outlaws of the San Gabriels


 Yearning to operate in the wild margins of Los Angeles, early pioneers and fugitives from the law carved their homes and hideouts into the cloistered heights of the San Gabriels.

Century of Destruction: Environmental Devastation of the San Gabriel Mountains


The nineteenth century was a brutal era of exploitation of the San Gabriels.

The Rise and Fall of Henry "Don Enrique" Dalton, the British Ranchero of the San Gabriel Valley


The British-born merchant married the "Most Beautiful Girl in Los Angeles," and owned much of the land that formed the foothills of the San Gabriels. But his good fortune and wealth had all but vanished by the end of his life.


Eldoradoville: The Forgotten Boom Town of the San Gabriels


In 1860, this boom town was thriving along the San Gabriel Rivers East Fork, boasting general stores, black smith shops, and more than a few saloons.

Hotels in the Sky: Bygone Mountaintop Resorts of L.A.


Entrepreneurs built summit resort camps in the San Gabriel Mountains to lure the throngs of weekend trekkers into an unforgettable overnight stay.

Peering into the Chasm: Vanished Canyon Resorts of L.A.


Once thriving resorts offered early 20th Century Angelinos the chance to trade the ever expanding city for the cloistered confines of mountain canyons.

Photographs of L.A.'s 'Great Hiking Era' in the Early 20th Century

During the "Great Hiking Era," Angelenos flocked to the San Gabriel Mountains to enjoy its boundless recreational opportunities.

Higher Beauties: The Discovery of the Speed of Light in the San Gabriels


One of the most famous scientific experiments in human history was performed in the San Gabriels during the 1920s.

Civilian Conservation Corps, Racial Segregation, and the Building of the Angeles National Forest


African-Americans faced discrimination in the Civilian Conservation Corps, an agency that helped develop the infrastructure of the Angeles National Forest in the 1930s.

When Los Angeles Abandoned its Mountain Frontier


The gradual abandonment of frontier exploits in the San Gabriel Mountains left behind ruins of lost enterprise and enchantment.

Driven Out: Louis Newcomb, the Last Mountain Man of the San Gabriels


Pioneer and early forester Louis Newcomb saw the mountains change drastically after the birth of the Angeles National Forest.

The Other River that Defined L.A.: The San Gabriel River in the 20th Century

Often overshadowed by the L.A. River, the San Gabriel River had a major impact on the cultural and economic development of Los Angeles in the 20th Century.

Life at Marrano Beach, the Lost Barrio Beach of the San Gabriel Valley


Marrano Beach, a popular recreational destination for Mexican American communities, was unlike any beach in Los Angeles.

Tarzan on the Rio Hondo! When Hollywood Invaded the Whittier Narrows


The emerging film industry and El Monte's Gay's Lion Farm shaped a bizarre period of exoticism surrounding the Whittier Narrows.


Spirits of the Wilderness: The 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act


Wilderness protection advocate Ann Olander reflects on the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act of 1964 and its impact on the wilderness of the San Gabriels.

A Baptism at the San Gabriel River


The flowing waters of the river's East Fork allows congregations from throughout the city to get "as close as you can get to what Jesus himself did."

Exploring the San Gabriel River's West Fork


The Departures production crew headed out on a field trip eastward to Azusa at the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Santa Fe Dam to Seal Beach: Biking the San Gabriel River Path

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Tackling 64 miles of the challenging but rewarding San Gabriel River Bike Path.

Exploring the San Gabriel River to the Bridge to Nowhere


The Departures production crew struck out into San Gabriel Canyon to reach the Bridge to Nowwhere.

The Emerald Necklace Vision for a Healthier L.A. County


The Emerald Necklace, inspired by the 1930 Olmsted-Bartholomew Plan, would unite communities of L.A. County through a network of river-adjacent greenways that link the San Gabriel and Santa Monica Mountains with the Pacific Ocean.

Monuments of Eternity: The San Gabriels in the Cultural Imagination


Moments of danger, innovation, and wonder in the San Gabriels are reminders of Los Angeles' place at the edge of the sublime.

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