100Hikes: #5 – Lower Arroyo Seco

On Wednesday morning, my friend Melanie joined me in Altadena for a hike up the Lower Arroyo Seco. We started at a trailhead at the end of West Altadena Drive. From there, we took the Gabrieleño Trail north, passed the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) as very smart people were arriving to work, and headed into the wooded canyon. We were both thankful that the trail was flat, with only a 530 foot elevation gain in 1.5 miles. The trail parallels a gentle stream shaded by sycamores, white alders, oaks, maples, and steep canyon walls. Despite the incredible natural beauty, there are many signs that we are on the edge of a large civilization: chain-linked fences, dams, above-ground pipes, and remnants of human habitation as early as the 1920s. The Gabrieleño Trail heads 15 miles into the Angeles National Forest, but we turned around after just a mile and a half of easy trekking.

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Along the trail I heard many birds but only saw a few. Melanie spotted a black-crowned night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) fishing in one of the reflective pools along the stream (see photo below). I heard the distinctive sound of an acorn woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) before seeing it in a tree. We also saw a spotted towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) foraging through the dry leaves for its breakfast.

While watching the small bird raking the leaves with its feet, a hiker walked up and greeted us. He was about 70-years old and said he was happy to see someone else stopping to look at the wildlife. I understood what he meant, having seen quite a few Angelinos on this trail concentrating more on their loud and obnoxious cell phone conversations than their surroundings. (I even overheard one woman say into her phone that she wanted to stay on the line “in case I’m attacked by a wild animal on this trail.”)

The local man told us that he hiked this trail every morning and that quite a few times he has mistaken the sound of this bird rustling around in the brush for a deer due to the amount of noise they make. He also pointed out that the nearby oak once had a bee hive in its trunk, “before someone unfortunately plugged shut the hive entrance.” He seemed disappointed by this, adding that “these sort of people are also the type that would kill a rattlesnake if they saw one on the trail.” I related to this man, also believing that animals shouldn’t be killed simply because they are dangerous. Each species of animal is a crucial link in the ecology. If, say, rattlesnakes were to disappear, the food chain would be broken causing problems that we can’t even imagine today. We are in their territory, not the other way around. I bet if we joined him on the trail, he would have a story about every rock and tree along the trail, but unfortunately we were on our way out.

We ended the hike at around 9:30am, happy that the overcast morning was cool and the trail was easy. I’ll be doing this trail again before the year is out, I’m sure of it.

What I learned on the hike:

  1. Check how your body will react to bug repellent by applying a “patch test” on a small quarter-sized area of skin. Unfortunately, I applied old bug repellent on my neck, arms and legs without testing it and I had a bad reaction to it. I ended up with a really nasty rash and a mild stomach ache for the rest of the day.
  2. Some Angelinos need to turn off their cell phones once in a while and enjoy their surroundings.

Hike #5 Trip Stats:

  • Date of hike: May 13th, 2009
  • Location: Lower Arroyo Seco. (Gabrieleño Trail), La Cañada-Flintridge, California
  • Length: 3.1 miles
  • Duration: 1 hour, 19 minutes, 17 seconds
  • Average speed: ±2.3 mph
  • Altitude at start: 1,259 feet
  • Altitude min.max: 1,160/1,341 feet

This map was made with the data my GPS captured on the hike. For a more detailed trip report map, check this out.


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Looking upstream in Fern Canyon
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Arroyo Seco in bloom
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See the black-crowned night-heron? (near the center of the photo)
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Looking downstream in El Prieto Canyon
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Looking upstream in El Prieto Canyon
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