Dancing Trees

Hurricane force winds whipping up sand at the North Etiwanda Preserve TrailheadHurricane force winds whipping up sand at the North Etiwanda Preserve Trailhead

24-January, 1-February 2015: Anyways, it was times like these that reminded us of why trucks with trailers would flip over on their sides in the desert regions, especially near the Cajon Pass. And apparently, we were seeing a wind-tunnel effect where winds were being funneled into a narrow canyon or pass between the San Bernardino Mountains and the end of the San Gabriels. Little did I realize how relevant Mom's story was when it became our turn to attempt the hike to Etiwanda Falls on this day.

The force of the winds were becoming even more apparent as we were driving through the local streets along both Base Line and Etiwanda Ave. That was because we saw a handful of downed trees and even whole chunks of tree branches in the middle of the road on both Base Line and Etiwanda Ave.

Now it was getting serious...

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Once again it was around 6:30am when we awoke to Julie's iPhone alarm. I had looked forward to doing today's hike even though I had pretty low expectations of it in terms of the wow factor. And the reason why was because it would be the first local waterfall in California in a while that we hadn't seen. And the one we were targeting today was Etiwanda Falls.

As we were getting ready to meet up with my parents at their place at 8am, Julie suddenly didn't feel the need to be rushed as she was preparing breakfast for herself and for Tahia. So I knew that based on that mentality, we wouldn't be at my Mom's place by 8am and we probably wouldn't be starting the hike until after 10am, which I thought we be late. And this tardiness wouldn't benefit us since today was forecasted to be in the 80s as apparently the Santa Ana easterly winds were probably in effect and responsible for this unusually warm January weather.

So after a little bit of tension between Julie and I over this difference of opinion on being rushed versus having a better experience out in the field, we finally left the house at 8:10am. Not surprisingly, it was already starting to get a little warm outside, and the skies were cloud free.

It wouldn't be until about 8:55am when we would leave the parents' place, which was a little behind schedule from the Sturtevant Falls excursion we did last week. I guess this just goes to show you that with a kid, it seems that no matter how much you try to be early, it never works out that way for one reason or another.

Anyways, we headed out east taking freeways that reminded us of what it was like driving to Vegas or Southern Utah, or even Ontario Mills and places like that. Regardless, we would eventually get off the I-15 freeway at Base Line, then follow Ann Marie's directions towards the North Etiwanda Reserve. We were using her new book this time, especially since we knew that the old book that we still keep didn't describe Etiwanda Falls or others that we did (or did not) have in the Schaffdog book.

While driving on the I-15 then onto Base Line, we did notice how the trees were quite violently swaying. Mom was telling Tahia that the trees were dancing as they seemed to have a bit of a vigor to their swaying.

In the car, it was hard to appreciate the force of the winds since the car's body was deflecting most of it from us. But we could imagine how much crazier it would be had we been standing in it.

Mom even told us of a story of how they were opening up a 3M warehouse in Ontario long before the inland empire was being built up, and how everywhere around them was pretty empty. She was in a vehicle with some managers for a grand opening, but when it came time for the formalities, the forceful winds and quickly moving tumbleweeds with sand kicked up around them made it so they briefly got out of the car, then went back in the car saying that was enough. Besides, no one else was really around given the desert storm that they were faced with.

Anyways, it was times like these that reminded us of why trucks with trailers would flip over on their sides in the desert regions, especially near the Cajon Pass. And apparently, we were seeing a wind-tunnel effect where winds were being funneled into a narrow canyon or pass between the San Bernardino Mountains and the end of the San Gabriels. Little did I realize how relevant Mom's story was when it became our turn to attempt the hike to Etiwanda Falls on this day.

The force of the winds were becoming even more apparent as we were driving through the local streets along both Base Line and Etiwanda Ave. That was because we saw a handful of downed trees and even whole chunks of tree branches in the middle of the road on both Base Line and Etiwanda Ave.

Now it was getting serious.

There were even pebbles attacking the car near the Wilson Ave turnoff as the powerful gusts made us hear crackling sounds from the pebbles hitting Dad's SUV.

Approaching the very exposed North Etiwanda Preserve car park As we got closer to the end of the road at the North Etiwanda Preserve, we started to get nervous about what's the next tree that would fall on us or block the road. We mercifully made it to the unpaved trailhead at 9:40am, which was quite exposed to the sun and beneath high voltage power lines. There were actually quite a few cars already parked here (the car park was nearly full), and that kind of gave me a little hope that perhaps it would be possible to do the hike despite the apparent hurricane force winds.

Looking eastwards from the reserve But when Mom and I started to get out of the car, we both took some time to take trailhead photos, yet the winds were making it quite challenging to even do that. Some of the sand pebbles that were whipped up by the strong winds were even stinging our faces and necks where we were a little exposed to the elements. And our clothes were flapping about making us look like the Michelin Man (from those tire commercials). In fact, it was quite hard to stand up and keep our balance. The winds were also so strong that we were hearing tornado-like whooshing sounds as they were probably created from the winds passing through the steel pylons (holding up the power lines) themselves.

Looking west at some folks running along beneath the power lines The last time Julie and I experienced something like this was in Patagonia in late 2007, but it turned out that we never had to hike in this kind of weather back then.

Looking past the main fire road gate towards some tall mountains backing Rancho Cucamonga All this prompted Julie to comment how scary things were, and at that point, everyone (Dad, Mom, and Julie) talked me out of doing this hike. Tahia was pretty obliviously still strapped into her car seat. But when I came to my senses and realized that Tahia wouldn't be able to stand up in this kind of weather, that was when we had to abort today's hike and get back into the shelter of Dad's car at 9:50am.

So now we know what it really means to have Santa Ana Winds!

Mom getting pushed back towards the car park aided by the wind blowing on her back Totally defeated and deflated given what Mother Nature (and Climate Change) had dictated on this day, we ultimately headed over to Rowland Heights for some dim sum. That would make this the second aborted excursion in a row (Sturtevant Falls being the first one back on the penultimate day before New Years Day) followed up with a Chinese restaurant (the aborted Sturtevant Falls hike resulted in us going to Din Tai Fung).

And so it was that with hardened hair (from all that sand that accumulated in our scalps) and hiking gear, we came to the busy restaurant dressed the part. I guess one could say that we quite literally "hiked" to the Dim Sum restaurant as it could easily be seen that way to an outside observer...

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It was about 6am when Julie and I awoke. With this being the third week in a row where we did a relatively early wake-up for one of the days on the weekend, we were pretty ready to get up and going on this go around. I guess Julie's funny iPhone alarm did the trick again (though Julie admitted she set it a half-hour earlier so she could prepare brekkie for Tahia before going to my parents').

Actually, there was a slight last minute change in plans last night when we let Mom in on the plans to re-try Etiwanda Falls on Super Bowl Sunday. Yesterday, we were way too busy with doing taxes and that kind of stuff. In any case, Mom wanted to bring Joshua along. So instead of going to my parents' place, we were going to my brother's place to pick us Joshua, the nephew.

And even despite the early wake-up, it wouldn't be until about 8am when we would finally leave the house with Tahia. About 20 minutes later, we showed up to my brother's place, where we met up with my parents who were waiting for us. In a bit of another last-minute twist, my Dad decided to come along and they were also bringing my brother's daughter, Sophia. So that meant the hiking party was going to consist of Julie, me, Tahia, Joshua, Sophia, Mom, and Dad - a total of 7 people!

Since my brother and his wife were staying home (as they weren't into hiking), they let us borrow the van. And so with that family-mobile going, we were off at 8:40am.

As it was last week, the drive up the I-15 to Base Line was pretty uneventful. But this time, we noticed that there weren't any dancing trees. Instead, we dutifully followed Base Line to Etiwanda Ave, and ultimately made it back to the North Etiwanda Preserve at 9:25am. But this time, the parking lot was quite packed.

Just on a lark, Dad went all the way to the front of the car park, where we got lucky and spotted a vacated parking spot that was probably as close to the trailhead as we could get. That was a relief because that meant the kids wouldn't have to walk as far (though earlier we were contemplating a Sturtevant Falls-like scheme where we'd drop everyone off at the trailhead then go off and find parking before rejoining the group).

It took a bit of time to get ready and it was already proving to be pretty warm on this Winter day. I couldn't imagine how much worse it would be out here (both temperature-wise and wind-wise) on a typical late Spring or Summer day!

Back at the trailhead for the North Etiwanda Preserve Julie supervising Joshua and Tahia on the early part of the trail Still in the early part of the hike with some pretty mountains in the background

To lead off, I was carrying Sophia in the child carrier. Joshua and Tahia were keeping each other company as expected, though they had a tendency to get ahead of the pack. Since Sophia still had morning naps, the child carrier solution was the way to go (we used it successfully with Tahia on our trips abroad).

Still on the trail going uphill with Julie, Tahia, and Joshua holding hands Still further up along the trail with some scenic mountains in the background Looking off to the left at some shelter that I mentally noted to come back to later

And even though Sophia was somewhat lighter than Tahia, it still didn't take away from the fact that it was still over 20 lbs more weight on my hips. So the already uphill hike was even more difficult than it already was. Plus, I had to have counted at least a half-dozen other hikers playing music out loud on the trail, which I thought was kind of ghetto.

Looking ahead at the open and exposed trail to Etiwanda Falls backed by foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains It was still a predominantly uphill hike Looking back at the hazy Inland Empire from the trail to Etiwanda Falls

And after 20 minutes, we had only made it up towards the junction leading to some shelter off to the left. We kept going straight, but I mentally made a note to come back here on the way back to see what that shelter was all about.

Looking back at the hazy Inland Empire from the trail to Etiwanda Falls Making it past the first gate on the trail we encountered as the trail then climbed a bit more from here The trail continuing its climb as we went higher up

The trail continued to climb at a rate of about 100ft every 1/4-mile. By the time we got past the 0.5-mile point at 10am, we reached a four-way intersection, where we saw lots of people going straight ahead past some gate. The trail also looked like it was climbing a little more steeply than it had been up to this point. Moreover, the trail also felt a bit rockier as well, so that conspired to turn ankles, and it especially concerned us regarding Joshua and Tahia being prone to falling.

Julie and Tahia making it to the yellow gate The trail finally starting to level out somewhat Looking back at the Inland Empire from past the yellow gate

I guess tempering the sweaty, uphill, and arid hike was the fact that the mountains before us looked quite scenic (at least by Southern California standards). The uphill hike now started to feel somewhat relentless. At this point, Dad was chasing Joshua who were way up in front. Mom was a little ahead of me. Meanwhile, Julie and Tahia were holding hands and slowly trying to catch up to me.

Further ahead past the yellow gate The family making a brief detour to check out the so-called 'Frank's Rock' The view from 'Frank's Rock'

At about 10:30am, we had finally made it to a yellow gate. By this time, Tahia was tired, and I actually saw Julie carrying her as they were going uphill. I knew that couldn't have been fun for Julie. But since the child carrier was already occupied by Sophia, there really wasn't much that we could do regarding relieving Tahia from continuing on the uphill hike. Julie even wondered if next time we should leave Sophia at home so at least Tahia would have the option of being carried if she complained or got tired. So much for Joshua (who was way ahead) and Tahia keeping each other company (as well as energized) for the whole hike.

Another look towards the Inland Empire from 'Frank's Rock' Some kind of water contraption that we spotted on the way up to Etiwanda Falls The final uphill on the main trail past the water contraption

Now that Julie and I were together with Mom, Dad, and Joshua not far ahead of us, we were holding Tahia's hand to keep her encouraged. I think Mom also slowed down to keep Tahia company as well. Meanwhile, Dad was chasing Joshua once again as they were leading the pack.

The climb finally flattened out on its way to the top of Etiwanda Falls Looking through some trees at an obstructed view of the uppermost tier of Etiwanda Falls The uppermost tier of Etiwanda Falls

About five minutes later, we then saw a short spur leading to a vista next to a rock with graffiti on it called "Frank's Rock." I wasn't sure whether that was officially the rock's name or if it was merely random graffiti. We paused for a few photos while getting a look at the Inland Empire from this spot (albeit somewhat against the sun).

The uppermost tier of Etiwanda Falls Then, we continued on the hike, which slightly undulated before resuming a short uphill stretch where we then reached some kind of water contraption some five minutes later. I noticed some people leaving the trail (or coming back to it) from some informal spur path past the water contraption. So I made a mental note of it for later just to see where it might lead after we get through with doing the main part of the hike.

At this point, we were wondering if we were going the right way (due to those informal trails), but a local that was also doing this hike said the waterfall was still straight ahead on the main trail, which continued going further uphill around a bend.

Finally at about 10:50am, we found ourselves near the top of Etiwanda Falls. There wasn't any clean view of the falls from the official footpaths, but I did see some opportunities to make some scrambles to improve the view of at least the uppermost tier of the falls. In any case, I took off the child carrier so Mom and Dad could look after Joshua, Sophia, and Tahia. All of them seemed to enjoy being around the water - especially Tahia and Joshua who were throwing rocks and twigs into the stream.

The upper two tiers of Etiwanda Falls A slightly more direct view of the upper two tiers of Etiwanda Falls Julie checking out the uppermost tier of Etiwanda Falls

Meanwhile, Julie and I spent some time taking photos and movies of the upper two tiers of Etiwanda Falls. I could tell there was another drop further below that was unseen (at least safely) from our vantage points. And we were pretty content to just document the falls from up here though we did see quite a few other folks make the scramble right to the base of the falls and even a short distance further downstream.

Looking downstream from the top of Etiwanda Falls Tahia and Joshua with Julie and Dad checking out the Upper Etiwanda Falls Looking downstream into the greenery around the stream downstream from Etiwanda Falls

In addition, Julie and I were basking in the moment as we could finally make the claim that we managed to visit a local waterfall that we hadn't been to before for perhaps the first time in at least three years. I guess we could blame some of this on the drought making it not so worthwhile to seek out some of these more obscure waterfalls. Yet the popularity of this falls definitely took me off guard. I wouldn't say it was as crazy busy as Sturtevant Falls, but it seemed like it wasn't that far off.

Looking towards the smoggy basin as we were headed back down towards the car park Anyways, all good things must come to an end, and by 11:20am, we started to head away from this area upstream of Etiwanda Falls. But when Joshua and Tahia noticed there was more to the waterfall than the stream they were playing in, we spent another 10 more minutes scrambling to the viewpoint that Julie and I were at earlier. Once that was done, we then headed down the hill back towards the water contraption.

Some kind of contraption in the cliff as I was seeking a way to view the lowermost tier of Etiwanda Falls I think at this point, Joshua seemed to start throwing a tantrum for some reason (we weren't sure why). Sophia was also upset about being put back into the child carrier (apparently she didn't like the ride). And while Julie and Tahia were up ahead, I took the opportunity to check out the informal path behind the water contraption to see where it went.

Looking down at the steep scramble that had to be done in order to get to the bottom of Etiwanda Falls The path was pretty obvious except for one rocky scramble part, but then I could see where the trail skirted a ledge before ending up at some kind of water mane or something built into a cliff. And down below, I could see there was some graffiti in the shadowy depths below. I saw there were a few scrambling paths to access the base, where I suspected the last of the Etiwanda Falls could be seen (it definitely couldn't be seen up here, but it could definitely be heard).

But as I saw that the path to the bottom looked steep, I decided not to try it. Perhaps in my younger days, I would've done it without much hesitation, but with a daughter and now a niece and nephew to look after, I thought better of it and play it safe. I hope I wouldn't regret not seizing the moment though (despite the fact that it was only the last 20ft drop of the waterfall).

On the trail back down to the car park from Etiwanda Falls Another look back at Frank's Rock The benefit of the downhill hike back to the car park were nice views of the Inland Empire

At about 11:45am, I made it back to the yellow gate where Julie, Mom, Tahia, and Joshua were. Mom said that Dad and Sophia were still further up ahead as they had apparently passed us while I was doing my short little exploratory escapade.

We're off to see the wizard... Getting closer to the bottom of the hike as the new housing developments are becoming more apparent again Continuing further down on the hike back to the car

At about 12pm as we were still making our descent, Tahia was starting to get a little antsy due to fatigue (this wasn't that easy of a hike for four-year-olds). But we managed to get her mind off the fatigue by encouraging her to sing Frozen's "Let It Go", which she was obsessing about all Winter long.

Another look at the dramatic context of the downhill trail with the smoggy Inland Empire in the distance Still continuing the descent back to the car park Tahia, Julie, Joshua, and Mom still on the downhill trail back to the car park

At 12:25pm, I made a brief detour to that shelter that I made a mental note of to visit on the way up earlier. When I got there, I was pretty much by myself checking out the signs talking about the landscape, the history, and the endangered species that this preserve was trying to protect. It was interesting, but I also wasn't surprised to see the ingrateful thugs who spray-painted just about all of the signs except for one.

Almost back at the end of the trail as the power lines were starting to become more apparent again Looking eastwards towards the last vestige of snow atop the San Bernardino Mountains Approaching the shelter with all the interpretive signage

Finally at 12:30pm, all of us were back at the car park. Feeling accomplished, it was nice to see Sophia smile (after her responding with "yes" whenever we'd ask her if she had fun). Of course, Tahia was enjoying herself now that she was back in the car seat and relaxed. Joshua, on the other hand, was throwing a hissy-fit, and we still didn't know why.

The shelter with interpretive signs of the North Etiwanda Preserve The water tank near the trailhead for the North Etiwanda Preserve Finally back at the car park and trailhead of the North Etiwanda Preserve

Nonetheless, ten minutes later, the family mobile took off, and another 40-minutes or so later, we were back at my brother's place to have a quickie take-out lunch while mingling a bit before we'd all go our separate ways and spend the rest of Sunday back at home (or party in my parents' case) enjoying the Super Bowl...

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