Sturtevant Falls was one of the very first waterfalls that Julie took me to back when I was still stressing out at graduate school. Memories of this waterfall were fuzzy since it was at least over eight years ago I figure, but we also wanted to capture better photographs than the old analog film camera photos we had of it. Besides, we figured it was time to get reacquainted with this place and make clearer some of those fuzzy memories of bygone days.
It was a partly cloudy day, but it was already shaping up to be a pretty warm day. Considering we’re only one day removed from February, it already felt like late Spring as the recently accumulated snow from the February storms were rapidly melting and draining into creeks feeding waterfalls such as the one we’re about to visit. We were betting that this waterfall ought to be flowing better than it did in mid Spring of 2001.
By a little after 9:30am, we arrived at the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains just north of Arcadia. The first good sign was that the Chantry Flat gate at the very north end of residential section of the Santa Anita Ave was open. Back in the Spring of 2005, we tried to visit this falls only to find that this gate was closed, and we had learned later that it was closed for a while thanks to the deluge-induced washouts and landslides on the Chantry Flat Road (2005 was a year of unusually consistent and intense rainfall).
Anyways, we proceeded along the two-lane road leading to the Chantry Flat Car Park at its end. The road seemed narrower than when I remembered back then, but maybe that’s because there’s a lot more bigger and wider cars these days.
At around 9:45am, we noticed there were already lots of cars parked in pullouts well downhill from the Chantry Flat trailhead. I never remembered having parking trouble in the past, but it seemed that we were in for some difficulties this time around. So much for our theory that most people are probably in church this morning and shouldn’t be as crowded.
We proceeded all the way to the end of the road arriving at the car park by Chantry Flat. And as expected, the car park was full. There were at least a half-dozen cars circling the lot looking for someone to leave.
We also noticed a Forest Ranger actively patrolling the area looking for Forest Adventure Pass decals. I think this was the very first time Julie and I have actually witnessed someone enforcing the Adventure Pass fee area.
Since we didn’t pick one of those passes up at REI or Sports Chalet prior to this spontaneous trip, we were relieved to see that passes were sold at the pack station at this car park. So Julie got out of the Mom’s car and proceeded to walk down a path to purchase the pass.
I was at the wheel and was already a little unsettled and antsy about finding parking around here. And since I couldn’t block traffic waiting for Julie, I decided to leave the car park and look for parking.
“Shouldn’t you wait for Julie?” said Mom.
I guess I wasn’t thinking at the time in my stressed state and said to her, “Yeah, we should. But how are we going to get back to parking lot?”
By this time, we were already back on the two-lane road and I wasn’t sure how we were going to make a U-turn back to the parking lot.
Since we were already committed, I figured we’ll find parking, meet up with Julie near the trailhead, and take Julie’s stuff with me (with me carrying the stuff she would end up not needing).
So that we did.
We ended up parking at least a quarter-mile from the trailhead (possibly more). We were a little bit past a stop sign where the road became single-lane briefly due to the other lane falling away into the canyon (from a landslide or erosion from heavy rains).
By the time Mom and I locked the car, Julie was already coming back to us. And she was not happy!
After letting her vent briefly, she said that she paid $5 to actually park in a hidden part of that lot! So she didn’t have an Adventure Pass and we got back into the car to return to the car park. And as we got back to the car park, we arrived back to the little path to the pack station only to find that it was gated off with a sign saying “Lot Full.”
“Aww man,” said Julie in disgust. “See? You should’ve waited for me! There were plenty of open spots when I was there. Now I have to get an Adventure Pass!”
So this time, I did what I should’ve done in the first place and waited for Julie.
At first, I tried to scope out a parking spot as we waited for her, but no one would leave. It also turned out that I was blocking traffic behind me. A ranger came up to me and told me I had to move.
So this time, I circled back around the car park but I was behind several other cars and it took several minutes before I got back to where I dropped off Julie. Fortunately, she got back to us around that time.
“What a headache!” Julie lamented. “Now I wish we hadn’t come here.”
Well, since we were already here and I made an error in judgment earlier, I had to let her vent. Since Julie had already ran back down to us earlier, Mom suggested that we drop Julie off with our stuff at the trailhead while we look for parking. I was already worried that we probably lost even that spot we secured earlier.
But before we were allowed to execute that plan, Julie wanted us to make another go at the parking lot. I frustratingly obliged knowing that it was futile, and when sure enough it wasn’t successful, I shook my head and snickered. I think Mom must’ve sensed that neither Julie nor I were happy at this point.
Anyways, we ended up dropping Julie off with our gear at the trailhead as planned, and then Mom and I drove back down to the familiar two-lane road looking for a pullout where we could park (this time with our newly bought Adventure Pass).
Eventually, we got back to the very same cliffhugging spot we had secured earlier. When Mom and I disembarked and locked the car, I couldn’t help but wonder whether any of the rocks on that cliff might fall and damage the car. It bothered me that with all the time that had passed, no one bothered to park there.
Anyways during the 1/4-mile or so hike to the trailhead, Mom and I conversed a little bit about what had transpired.
“We should’ve left earlier today. The early bird gets the worm,” she said.
I agreed with her, but it seemed like getting an early start today just wasn’t meant to be. Though I do remember getting earlier starts in the past. I even remembered routinely seeing sunrises and usually being the first ones of the day to waterfalls. I guess we got later and later starts as we’re getting older.
She also reminded me to let Julie vent as she noticed the tension between us over the parking lot incident. “Sometimes you have to just let it go,” she said. Again, I agreed even though someones you don’t want to hear a lecture from your parents.
It wasn’t until around 10:30am that we rejoined Julie at the Chantry Flat Trailhead. Now, we can finally begin the hike.
The trail was extremely busy. There were already nearly a hundred people spread out between the car park and the trailhead as well as the descending paved road we were about to go on.
It was uncomfortably hot already and we weren’t looking forward to climbing back up this road at the end of our hike.
I certainly remembered this part of the hike back when we did this the first time. I guess with the benefit of years of waterfalling experience, we now noticed that this road looked like it was once be able to support vehicular traffic to the public. I mean, we could see pullouts or turnouts as well as concrete fords that were dry up here.
I also remembered that fork leading to the remote Hermit Falls, which we didn’t bother doing. I didn’t remember the sign that said, “May Your Search Through Nature Lead You To Yourself.” But this statement was so spot on that I’m sure we’ll remember it from here on out!
After what seemed like a rather long descent on this exposed-to-the-sun paved road (again, lamenting that we’ll have to come back up this way at the end), we mercifully got into the base of the canyon where we were greeted by a dam with manmade waterfall as well as a footbridge bypassing the flooded ford.
The noise of the water was reassuring as I didn’t recall this much noise let alone water coming from any of the creeks in our last visit.
The rest of the hike went along pretty uneventfully (except for lots of people passing us by or trail running it seemed). We spent some time checking out some of the manmade dams and waterfalls along the creek which this trail flanked. There were also numerous cabins that apparently were built here before it became National Forest Land so they were grandfathered into the area and apparently these cabins were either renovated, well-kept, or actively inhabited because hardly any of them looked dilapidated as we would’ve expected.
I recalled that somewhere near the cabins, we saw another wise sign by the trail. This time it said, “Take care of the land. Someday you’ll be part of it.” Very true though I wasn’t sure that was a very motivational saying to get people to take care of the land.
Some cabins even had interesting signs and names such one next to the trail that I remembered that said, “Bombadil’s Castle.”
“Must’ve been a Lord of the Rings fan,” I told Julie. “Except Tom Bombadil wasn’t in the movie. Only in the book.”
“Really? No wonder I haven’t heard of him,” said Julie. She then changed subjects saying, “These cabins are very charming,” in reference to the rustic yet functional appearance of these structures.
After three stream crossings (beginning with the Fiddler’s Crossing, which I know not why it got a name), we were at the crowded base of Sturtevant Falls.
As expected, the falls was flowing with more volume than before, but it seemed to be shorter than we remembered. Then again, it could be because we didn’t really have a point of reference back in the early days of waterfalling. And now, after seeing giants like Angel Falls and Iguazu Falls, this waterfall I guess was put in its place in our minds.
It was also a little shadowy at the falls, which also contrasted from our previous experience which was completely exposed to sunlight. So the mossy colors on the cliff weren’t as prominent.
All in all, it was a relaxing experience despite all the people around here. We were reminded once again why we liked this waterfall as it definitely had more flow than say Escondido Falls which we did in early February.
“Dad missed a good waterfall,” said Mom in reference to Dad wanting to sleep in today.
And with that, we left and headed back to the car. We noted some of the vegetation in the canyon, which got us thinking about how native plants should be used to landscape homes to save on water and reduce the fire risk. I’m sure the cabins here are constantly under fire risk especially with Climate Change drying up the Southwestern United States.
After a taxing climb up the paved road to get back to the Chantry Flat trailhead, it was now time to walk slightly downhill along the road dodging both parked cars and passing cars.
We noticed how some people parked illegally while others seemed to park in weird positions (like one truck with a wheel bearing the brunt of the vehicle’s weight since once side was perched on the elevated base of a cliff). We walked by a ranger who was writing up a ticket for a parked car.
“How are you?” asked Mom.
“Doin’ great,” replied the ranger.
“Did you write a lot of tickets today?”
“Yeah. Did you guys have your Adventure Pass?”
“Yes,” we all said collectively.
Eventually, we got back to our car. I guess the benefit of parking this far from the trailhead was that we got to see the Los Angeles Basin without rubbernecking while driving. This is something we don’t get to see all that often.
When we got back to the car and started it (at 12:30pm), the temperature gauge said 89 degrees F. I was a bit incredulous because it did feel hot, but I didn’t think it was THAT hot!
I can’t imagine what folks in the Midwest and out East must be thinking when we’re complaining about nearly 90 degree weather at the end of February while they’re contending with snow and ice storms.
And so ended a short but sweet half-day escape into the local mountains. We met up with Dad and treated ourselves to some Northern Chinese food near the parents’ place. All the while, we were telling Dad what he missed…
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