Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Hike 30--Vasquez Rocks to Angeles National Forest via Pacific Crest Trail

Wednesday, March 3.

Vasquez Rocks County Park is a frequent film location for either Western or other-worldly vistas. It's where Captain Kirk fought the Gorn, and where Sulu fought a samurai. It also stood in for Vulcan in several of the movies, including the latest one (although they obviously added a lot of computer geography).

It's a relatively small park, so I was never sure if I could make a real hike out of it. But I bought a bunch of maps last week, when I was at the Mt. Baldy visitors' center. One of the maps indicated that a segment of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) ran through Vasquez Rocks and on to the Angeles National Forest, a distance of about seven miles. That section of the Angeles is closed for Station Fire recovery, so that made a logical turnaround point.

I parked near the large rocks and climbed around them for a while. Then I loaded up my daypack and headed south, in search of the PCT.

Found it in short order. It's well-signed.

The trail heads south, then west, though some canyons and along a small, probably-seasonal, stream. There are lots of signs indicating the names of plants and trees. Sadly, a fire burned this area in 2007, so there are signs indicating Freemont Cottonwood, Arroyo Willow, and sycamore that appear to be in front of dead trees. Maybe they just looked dead, but will sprout again later in the spring?

The trail parallels the stream, crossing it several times. Just before you get to the Antelope Valley Freeway (CA-14), it bends to the east (left). Then it goes under the freeway. It's a long, dark, tilted walk to the otherside. Here's what it looks like from the other side.

Interestingly, the tunnel is sort of shaped like the shield they use to indicate the PCT.

After coming out on the other side, the trail goes a bit up hill, then parallels the freeway. After about 1/2 mile, it arcs to the south and cuts through the hills. On this day, there were some dramatic views of hills and clouds.

There are also some nice views to the south, of the San Gabriel Mountains. Here's a view near the end of my hike, looking southeast.

Just before you get to the tracks, there's a small monument, the "Golden Spike" that apparently indicates that this is the last segment of the Pacific Crest Trail to be completed.

In the summer, I'm sure this hike would be a killer. But it was a mostly-pleasant hike today. The only unpleasant part was my mad dash back to the car.

At least today, the parking lot at Vasquez Rocks is locked at 5pm. I don't know if it's open later in the summer, but I would hope so. On this day, near the northern end of my trek (the "golden spike,") I relaxed, ate some sandwiches, drank a lot of Gatorade, then checked my camera to see what time it was (I forgot my cell phone). It was 2:45PM. Hmmm. Only 2:15 to get back the nearly seven miles to my car? That's going to be tight.

I walked briskly on uphill sections of the trail, quickly on the downhill sections, and briefly jogged the level or slightly-downhill sections. Got back to my car at 4:54pm and reached the park's gate at 4:57pm. As I reached the gate, the rangers were already walking from their offices to their cars, and getting ready to leave. The sign at the gate said they lock it "promptly" at 5pm, and that would definitely appear to be the case.


  1. Nice hike! Great photos, as always.

    Yes, the rangers there are sticklers for closing. They'll be standing at the gate at 5pm, key in hand.

    To relieve stress, I simply park on the street right outside the gate and start my hike from there.

  2. Thanks, K!

    Getting locked in the park overnight would have been a major drag, to say the least.

    I've had a couple of poorly-timed hikes, already. My third hike of the year, from Eaton Canyon to Mt. Wilson, also involved a locked gate. I hadn't seen the sign that says THAT gate is also locked "at dusk," and didn't get back there until about 30 minutes after sunset, which was too late.

    Wound up walking the extra mile to the nature center, where I was able to catch a ride from a generous fellow hiker and his wife.

    My first Van Tassel fire road hike (Feb 7) also ended with me walking in the dark down Encanto Parkway, because I couldn't see the trail leading back to Melcanyon Drive in the dark.

  3. Nice pix, I'll have to try that and go farther on PCT past the freeway next time.