Sunday, April 3, 2011

Hike 2011.022 -- Sycamore Canyon (Puente Hills) and Galster Park

Two hikes today, Sunday, April 3. Neither were what I originally planned.

I was originally planning for Mt. Wilson today. However, I was slow getting out of the house, and when I started my drive north, the clouds atop Mt. Wilson looked very dark. Ironically, the channel 2 news today opened their 6pm weather segment with a view from the Mt. Wilson Cam. Looks like the clouds actually stayed below the peak, so it would have been sunny up there. Oh, well.

Instead, I turned my car around and headed south, towards the Puente Hills. I decided to try Sycamore Canyon, instead. That's where I saw the deer last week. It had been almost a year since I last hiked this area.

This trail head is off of Workman Mill Road, just south of Rose Hills' Gate 17. If you're coming from the south, start looking for 5050 Workman Mill Road. When the numbers start getting near that large, be ready to make a right into the "driveway" at 5050 Workman Mill Road. You won't see any indication of the trail head until after you make the turn.

If the gate is open, proceed a few hundred yards to the end of the open roadway. You will need to make a slight left. It appears the Puente Hills Native Habitat Authority owns the homes on this short street and uses them as a base of operations and possibly for ranger housing.

Be advised that, unlike most trails under the Authority's control, this one does NOT allow dogs. It's considered "sensitive" habitat. As noted a few posts ago, there are definitely deer in the area, as well as squirrels, rabbits, various birds, coyotes, and possibly, on occasion, mountain lions.

The trail begins at the bulletin board, and begins by heading under trees, as though it's an actual trail. After about 100 yard of this, you pop out on an improved dirt road. Stay on the one indicated as a trail, and turn around if you run into a "No Public Access" sign.

As the road heads east, you'll find yourself in a surprisingly deep canyon bottom. The cliff on the north side is abrupt. The one on the south side is less abrupt, and grass-covered, at least in early spring. A small creek may be gurgling to your immediately right.

Non-native mustard blooms dominate the landscape. Thistle seem to be a distant second in commonality, although I'd bet they become more prominent later in the season. Bush sunflowers took up a few positions on the slope, while prickly pear cactus grew on shallower slopes. Tobacco tree were also pretty common.

I saw a number of red-chested hummingbirds (a description, as I don't know the species). Numerous hawks glided high above. Only a few butterflies, although I got reasonable pictures of two of them.

After 1.3 miles, the Sycamore Canyon trail splits. "Dark Canyon" continues to the east, although I know from past experience that that trail just ends at the property line, with no particular payoff. Instead, I took the switchback trail, which would (if followed to the top) give me a decent view to the south, overlooking Whittier. First, you cross the small creek. then the switchbacks begin. However, thistle was thick and I didn't want to scratch up my legs. Long pants would have definitely been a good idea here.

Having only made it about 1.4 miles in, that meant 2.8 miles roundtrip. To qualify as a hiking day, I decided to add on a visit to Galster Park, in West Covina.

From the Pomona Freeway, I exited at Azusa, and headed four miles north. I passed Industry Hills Country Club on the left, and Big League Dreams on the right. A scaled-down version of the Big "A" peeked over the hill.

At Aroma, I made a right. At the second stop sign (Galster Way), the lower parking lot for Galster Park was right in front of me. I made a left on Galster, then immediately turned into the lot.

I won't go into the crazy stories I found on the Internet about Galster Park. I just wanted to take a look at the park because my sister lives in the neighborhood. I'd driven by this park dozens of times, but never stopped to figure out if there was any "there" there.

From the lower lot, the trail started out of the far left end of the parking lot (if facing the lot from the entrance). I headed up the hill. Informational plaques were embedded in concrete at regular intervals. Unfortunately, their location is often unrelated to the plants nearby. I think the Toyon plant plaque was right under some of the largest poison oak leaves I have ever seen.

From the sometimes-paved, sometimes hardened dirt trail, several spurs split off. It was difficult to know which were real trails and which were use trails.

Soon enough, I popped up at the upper parking lot. I found a nifty-looking lookout with a spiral staircase heading to the top. Naturally, I went up. This was far from the tallest point in the park, but it did give a view of the nearby treetops. You could definitely tell that the forest here was thick.

After I came back down, I soon discovered that the trailer-looking temporary building adjacent to this tower (and restrooms) was the nature center. Inside was an older lady and her dog. The lady was the docent. The dog was just good company. She directed me to the trail map, which, upon actual use, proved pretty minimal in usefulness. It was just a photocopy of pen-drawn lines, the sort of thing that someone might have sat down and sketched out in about five minutes.

I followed the lines as best I could, but mainly just followed what seemed to be trails, heading up. At the top of one of these trails, I came to a fence that used to have one of those zig-zag gaps that allow people to pass but prevent horses or motorbikes from passing through. Unfortunately, the passage had been fenced shut, so a large piece of open space was cut off from park access. That's too bad, because my google maps view showed a lot of open space down that-a-way.

Tried various other spurs on the way back to the car, but they all seemed to lead back to parking lots.

There was one "trail," behind the playground, that led out from a zig-zag gate that hadn't been sealed shut. But the trail was virtually non-existent, and I didn't feel like bushwacking.

I spent about 45 minutes in the park, so easily a 1 1/2 miles, even with the stops. So figure on 4.25 miles for the day. No Mt. Wilson hike, but at least I got out of the house.

The upper area of this park had a completely graffiti-covered restroom. Other areas had numerous cameras mounted on polls, which, I suppose, should make me feel safer. However, they just make you feel like this was a very unsafe area. In reality, it's probably no more or less safe than a lot of other places I've hiked. Nonetheless, Galster Park lacks the sort of trail options that could make this a trailhead for hikes of significant distances. Yeah, sure, you can tire yourself out if you run up and down hills. But the trails heading to the top are really poorly laid out, and you can't ever feel like you're getting away from it all. Not a bad view of the San Gabriel Valley from near the top, though.


  1. Nice butterfly & flower pix! I agree that this park doesn't quite live up to its potential, but it's still better than nothing.

  2. I had some closer shots of the butterfly but my camera couldn't seem to find a focus on it!

    Looks like you've been pretty busy in the hills west of Chino Hills recently. I saw a story in the local paper about a new trail in Diamond Bar. Can't find the story any more. Sounded like it offered a nice view, but probably not enough distance to make a trip worthwhile.

  3. This park isnt all that safe for hiking or any other type of activity . i highly recommend you google the history of the park and it will tell you all the things that go on in this place .

  4. I assume you mean Galster Park. It's not much to look at, but it is adjacent to the "south hills" section of WeCo. I wouldn't normally consider it a destination, but obviously lots of people hike safely there every day.

  5. People dont hike up there everyday . I lived in west co . for 15 years maybe more and hardly any people go because of the stuff that has happened up there . When i would go with my aunt there was nobody there . just us and her kids . you may see people once in a while . but its not a park people go to very often .