Sunday, February 19, 2012

Hike 2012.008 -- Monrovia Hillside Wilderness Preserve

Hiked Saturday, February 18. After reading this story in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, I decided to visit the area today. I googled "Monrovia wilderness preserve" and looked at some google maps to get an idea of where access might be practical. Then I drove up there.

I took the 210 Freeway to Myrtle, headed north (going right pass my usual sidewalk astronomy site, at Myrtle and Lime, where I'll likely be next Saturday with my telescope--Venus, Jupiter and the moon will be on tap) to Foothill Blvd. I made a right there, then a left at Canyon.

After about 2/3 of a mile, Canyon makes a right turn at an intersection and shifts from heading due north to due northeast. The second street on the left after the split is Ridgecliff Drive. I made a left there. I drove slowly and carefully along this narrow, winding residential street, and kept an eye out for possible points where the Lower Clamshell Truck Trail intersected with Ridgecliff.

Eventually found one (forgot to note the street number). It's on the left, about a 1/2 mile after the street started and about 150 yards before Ridgecliff curls sharply to the right and begins a descent. (In other words, if you reach that point, you've gone too far. A small sign on the right side of this "driveway" says, "Walk bicycles" and "Stay on Outside Edge of Pavement."

Construction is currently (February 2012) ongoing as a new home is coming up on the parcel at the corner of Ridgecliff and Lower Clamshell. About 50 yards up this road, there's a "Road Closed" gate, next to the sign photographed above.

The sign says public access ends just 3/4 of a mile ahead. However, the sign is apparently somewhat out of date. It appeared to be slightly over 2 miles before I reached a "Private Property" sign. I was told the 3/4 mile referred to a point where a landslide once closed the road.

At the gate, you'll have to crawl through or climb over the gate to start your hike. Once past the gate, you begin a pretty immediate weave, with the mountains mostly on your right and the San Gabriel Valley on your left. This truck trail is easily visible and labeled on google maps, which shows that the road continues all the way to Arcadia Wilderness Park.

Unfortunately, it does not appear that public access is permitted between these two points. The "No Trespassing" and "Keep Out" signs on the gate certainly suggest not. On the other hand, the other side of the gate also had "No Trespassing" signs on it, but clearly, here I was, standing on the other side, without having ignored any no trespassing signs to get here. Also, I have come across and/or am aware of a number of other places where residents place "No Trespassing" and "No Parking" signs where parking or access is, in fact, legally protected. It's sometimes residents trying to secure public lands for their own use, or exclude the public from accessing public lands. Don't know if that's the case here, though.

Since I wasn't sure, I turned around at the second pictured gate. I may call Monrovia and/or the USFS to find out if there is an easement or legal access to cross the private property in the future.

The sign at the start of the hike notwithstanding, I did walk along a few of the more obvious use trails that branch off Lower Clamshell Road. The thickest set of these trails is where the truck trail reaches a saddle. One use trail heads steeply to the northeast, towards a small oasis of palm trees. I was told a homeless person lives up there, and also that this trail used to (and may, again?) go over into Monrovia Canyon.

Didn't walk that one.

Another use trail splits off and heads to the southwest, to a slightly higher point, on which was an L.A. County surveyor's monument (I did walk there). Just past the monument was what looked like a 400 or so square foot area, under trees and looking like a large tent. I suspect another homeless person may live there, so I turned around.

The third use trail headed north or northwest, dropping down in altitude a bit and paralleling a pipe structure that still funnels water down to the residents below. After about one mile, it led to a small waterfall (the first of many, I was told), though the water flow as low. It came down in a broken sheet of water about 2 feet wide and dropped about 20 feet.

At the bottom of the falls was a tarp, tied to the side of the cliff, and intended to either partial shade the water to keep it cooler, or perhaps to be used as a shield when the homeless guy up the cliff came down to shower.

I hope this doesn't sound too cynical, but seeing as how several people are apparently living up here (and have for quite some time), I don't understand the alleged fear of certain property owners in the area that opening the area up to more hikers is somehow going to increase the fire danger.

Total distance for the day was about 6.5 miles. The person I chatted with as I hiked a good part of this trail said it's 5.1 miles roundtrip from gate to gate, although my walking time seemed too fast for that distance. I'm thinking more on the order of 2 miles or so--with the saddle being more or less the midway point.

The person I ran into also said it's about 3/4 of a mile from the road to the first waterfall. I think it might be closer to a mile, but 3/4 of a mile would not be inconceivable. The short use trail I took to the surveyor's monument was probably about 1/2 mile roundtrip. That's why I'm going with 6.5 miles as my guess.

The trail to the waterfall was very narrow and crumbly, sort of like heading towards Rubio Canyon. Not as steep, but quite narrow in places and impossible to traverse without pushing down some soil and gravel into the ravine bottom. It's been substantially improved in places, with metal bridges and soil stabilizers, but it's still a tricky walk. There's also a lot of poison oak along this narrow trail, and, I am told, lots of ticks once the weather warms.

Not sure if I'll come this way again until I figure out better which areas are legally accessible and which are not.

Nice views from the saddle (and pretty much all along the truck trail). From there, you can look northeast, to the road that heads to Chantry Flats. You can also see the flat radio structure that's at the end of the paved/dirt road that continues above Chantry (that you need to walk some of to get to the upper Winter Creek trail).

Nice views over Monrovia and Arcadia, too. I'm sure when it's clearer, the ocean and Santa Catalina Island would be easy. Today, I could barely make out downtown L.A. through the haze. The Santa Ana Mountains were also tough.

Some wildflowers blooming along this trail. Some are old friends with names I remember (Spanish broom, bush sunflower), some are familiar ones with names I don't recall, and some were entirely new to me.

Short video at the end of the waterfall, shot from up-close.


  1. I'm surprised that there are any wildflowers since we have not had much rain. I was in Placerita Canyon yesterday and there was a little water in the creekbed but not much.

  2. Wildflowers are definitely patchy--Just a few flowers here and there. The only time in the San Gabriel Mountains I saw rolling hills of flowers was the one time, on the Sylmar side of the Los Pinetos Trail.

  3. I'm jealous of your awesome adventures and crystal clear camera to capture them :) Good job getting out there and making it happen! --Hey, I'm nearly halfway to my goal. I'm somewhat worried that I am going to run out of local trails and parks. It's too much of a drive for me to conquer most of the hikes you do but I love reading about them...

  4. Funny thing is, when I see pictures posted by people who use SLRs, *I'm* jealous of them, and want to get something sharper. My Nikon Coolpix L120 is disappointingly NOT clear, especially when you zoom. Definitely better than my second camera (a Samsung with about 7 megapixils), but I don't know if it's sharper than my compact Kodak 11 megapixils, I think).

    1,000 hikes without retracing too many steps seems crazy tough. This year, I'm just trying to keep active enough to try to control my weight, but even 50 unique hikes in a year would take more driving than I have time for, or more hikes over pavement than I'm willing to take. I guess you've got more open space out your way than me, but, still, it's gotta be tough finding new places all the time.

  5. Great post! I have always eyeballed this area while hiking Chantry and have only checked out the east side near Wilderness Park(which seems to always be filled with grazing deer). Can't wait to check out the rest of the area!

  6. Monrovia deer seem to be pretty bold, because I've seen them grazing in a lot of front yards up along Canyon.

    Glad you liked the post. I still need to figure out exactly where the other access points are supposed to be, and if they're officially open to use, yet.

  7. That trail which heads up sharply to the northeast will lead you to Clamshell, Rankin, and Monrovia Peaks. A tough, steep, brushy climb since I last tried it. Here's some more info.

    1. Nice link. Thanks, John. Sounds like a tough hike, but definitely something to consider on a not-too-hot day, if we have any more of them this year.

      I'm still sick enough to not want to go hiking. Might try on Friday, though that's only about 50-50, I'd say.

  8. Please kill Spanish broom whenever and wherever you see it in California. It is highly invasive and shades out native plants. It provides zero habitat value for native wildlife and it is a huge fire hazard. It should be persecuted at every opportunity. If you come across me on a trail, you'll likely see me cutting down Spanish broom.