Unforeseen Family Day (Soldier Creek Falls - June 10, 2017)
Looking down into the San Gabriel Canyon on the way back from Crystal Lake
And so we were merrily driving up the Hwy 39 into San Gabriel Canyon en route to Crystal Lake. But we were doing this drive without much preparation as we didn't bring Ann Marie Brown's book, nor did we consult my website prior to the service being non-existent in the mountains. And as I made the drive up the 39, I was trying to recall from memory which unsigned pullout was the correct one for the Lewis Falls.
I started to have a feeling that we might have overshot the correct trailhead, especially as I was starting to see the tops of the mountains that we were within (something I never recalled seeing in all the previous visits we've made to Lewis Falls). And when we eventually got up to the road closure just past a turnoff for the Crystal Lake Recreational Area, that was when I knew for sure that we had gone too far...
It wasn't until about 9:40am when we finally left home. The original plan was to be at Mom's place by 9am so we could all carpool together and head up to Soldier Creek Falls, which was one waterfall that Joshua hadn't done yet while also being reasonably close to my parents' place so we wouldn't have to turn this into an all-day affair. We were also planning on using this time to discuss logistics behind the Yosemite trip that was happening later this week starting Thursday night.
But it didn't surprise me that we had left later since we had a history of showing up later than projected given how Julie insisted on preparing breakfast before leaving. But it was also further exacerbated by Julie wasting time trying to delete photos on her iPhone when I've been telling her all along to just eat the added monthly cost on getting the cloud storage so she wouldn't have to be wasting time doing this.
Regardless, after getting ready for this pretty spontaneous local hiking trip (something we hadn't done since the March timeframe), we eventually got my parents' place at 10:05am. It still took some additional time to load up the parents' car so it then wouldn't be until about 10:25am when we finally left for Soldier Creek Falls
Right off the bat, we could see that both Tahia and Joshua were energized as they were making a lot of noise all the way in the back of the car. They were talking their kidspeak nonsense and in loud voices. But at least Joshua wasn't getting carsick since Tahia was keeping him company.
From the Death Valley trip over a month or so ago, we saw how Joshua was struggling with getting carsick. And so Mom was telling me not to drive too fast on the mountain roads so at least he doesn't get carsick.
And so we were merrily driving up the Hwy 39 into San Gabriel Canyon en route to Crystal Lake. But we were doing this drive without much preparation as we didn't bring Ann Marie Brown's book
, nor did we consult my website prior to the service being non-existent in the mountains. And as I made the drive up the 39, I was trying to recall from memory which unsigned pullout was the correct one for the Lewis Falls.
I started to have a feeling that we might have overshot the correct trailhead, especially as I was starting to see the tops of the mountains that we were within (something I never recalled seeing in all the previous visits we've made to Lewis Falls). And when we eventually got up to the road closure just past a turnoff for the Crystal Lake Recreational Area, that was when I knew for sure that we had gone too far.
So for sure, all that complacency and overconfidence regarding not needing the guidebook to do this hike was backfiring. Plus, we had spent well over an hour to get here after leaving the parents' place, which was much longer than this drive was supposed to be.
At Mom and Julie's strong urging, we decided to drive towards the Crystal Lake Recreational Area, where we were hoping that there'd be a visitor center so we could ask questions. Well, we'd eventually get there at 11:50am, which was now 90 minutes from the parents' place and well past the expected time of starting the hike. At the parking area and campsite there, I promptly went into the visitor center to ask the ranger about Lewis Falls while the rest of the family was busy taking potty breaks and buying some burritos or hamburgers from the cantina there to hold the kids over.
Sure enough as I was talking to the ranger, he confirmed that we indeed overshot the place. He also said that I was the first person to ask him about the falls. Anyways, he said that I was a little over 5 miles beyond the start of that hike. So he busted out a printout of a map of the area, then wrote in the margin at the top the numbers 34.84. That was the mile marker that I was to look out for as I was backtracking to the trailhead since it was unsigned.
So with that, I thanked him, and eventually at 12:10pm, we finally headed out towards the trailhead. During the drive, Mom was reminiscing with Dad how they said they came to Crystal Lake many years ago and only realized it now. They recalled doing a hike up to a mountaintop with views down into the canyon we had just driven up, and that some folks were fishing by Crystal Lake. I certainly had no recollection of being here as I either must have been too young or I didn't have the awareness of where I was due to a lack of interest in all things Nature back then.
About 15 minutes later, we finally arrived at the unisgned trailhead near a snow pole and near the mile marker 34.84 as the ranger had stated earlier. Now, instead of a single car here, we must have been the 5th or 6th car. Luckily, there was still some parking space for us to squeeze into.
Right when we were parking, there was a Latino family dressed in military gear or camouflage that were waiting for us to wrap up our parking. They looked like they were in for a pretty hardcore excursion as they were also wearing gloves and some hiking boots. We wondered if we'd see them at the falls later on.
And after taking a few minutes to get ready for the hike (and for Joshua and Tahia to eat up their snack to hold them over), we all started the hike. I was a little anxious that my left ankle might be giving me problems, especially since the hiking boots I was using was already giving me bone bruise problems from the Salt Lake City Trip. The discomfort I was having from this hike confirmed to me that perhaps it was defectively made and probably needed to be exchanged. It wasn't exactly good timing as the Yosemite trip was coming up.
The hike started off a bit uphill, which seemed a bit steeper than I had recalled before. Maybe we were younger and less fazed by these terrain issues in the past because it seemed like we didn't think anything of them back then. But now, for some reason, it seemed longer than before even though the distance of this hike never changed.
But when we made it up to the cabins, that rung a bell and I knew we were on the familiar trail since I knew those things were on the way to the falls. There were a handful of families making their way back to the trailhead as we were making our way up so for sure we were on the right path, especially since someone confirmed to my Mom that the falls was up there (as she still wasn't certain we were on the right trail).
After passing by some logs with lots of ladybugs on them (reminiscent of the big swarm of ladybugs back at Heart Rock Falls
), the trail then pretty much went right into the creek before crossing over to the other side. During this somewhat muddy traverse, Julie managed to have her bare arm caught on some jagged green leaves that we assumed were stinging nettle.
Julie immediately felt pain from that brief brush with the leaves, and it kept bothering her for the rest of the hike. When I got a closer look at her arm, I could see a few welts building up, and now we were getting concerned that she could very well indeed have gotten some neurotoxins from the leaves if they were indeed stinging nettle or something else that was poisonous.
Still, it didn't stop her from continuing on with the hike like the rest of the family, especially since we had to keep Joshua and Tahia close as they tended to want to go way up ahead of us.
And after scrambling past the familiar obstacles of fallen trees and rock slides (this hike was definitely rougher than the last time as a result of the slides), we'd eventually make it to the falls at 1:15pm. When we were there, we were pretty much the only ones here, which made us wonder who owned the rest of the cars if no one was here.
Regardless, Soldier Creek Falls (or Lewis Falls) was flowing pretty well for a local waterfall in June. It might have had similar flow to the last time we were here back in January 2013. Still, Tahia and Joshua wasted no time in taking off their shoes (with the aid of Grandma and Grandpa's help) as they spent the next several minutes exposing their feet to the icy cold water. They were also busy wielding the hiking sticks
that Mom had brought.
While all this was going on, Julie and Mom were frantically trying to capture these precious moments on their iPhones
. Meanwhile, I was busy documenting as much as I could through the DSLR camera
as I always do on excursions on like these. We must have had at least a pretty solid 15-30 monutes, which was ample time to drink some water while snacking on clementines or broccoli chips.
Indeed, this was the relaxing kind of waterfalling excursion as opposed to more popular waterfalls like Eaton Canyon Falls
and Sturtevant Falls
. Julie reiterated this as she felt pretty relaxed by this experience. And we'd enjoy the falls and the positive vibes that came along with it before another couple started to show up at the falls.
There was no military family here the whole time we were at the falls, and we never saw them coming in. So we were speculating whether they somehow climbed above this falls, which looked pretty dicey, especially since they had two kids accompanying them. The terrain to go up above the falls looked awfully steep. It was something I wouldn't pursue.
On the way back down, we had to go back through the same obstacles that we encountered on the way in. So we kept a close eye on the kids while trying to make sure we wouldn't have issues of our own. During the descent, we saw the military family still making their way up, which made us wonder if they were off-trail scrambling elsewhere before heading up to Lewis Falls. Regardless, we continued to make our way back down as quite a few more families were making their way up to the falls.
Funny how it seemed like no matter which hike we do, there always seemed to be more people heading up to the falls when we were heading back. I don't know if this was an illusion (since no one was passing us and we never caught up to anyone on the way there) while we'd be encountering more people when we're headed in opposite directions.
And once again, when we got back to the swarm of ladybugs, we paid a bit more attention to them as whey were crawling all over some downed logs. We weren't sure if they were attracted to wood like termites or not, but there sure were heaps of them. Good thing they were flying around in swarms like they did at Heart Rock Falls a few weeks ago.
Finally at 2:10pm, we made it back to the trailhead. There were now about 6 cars at the trailhead and a pair of cars parked around us were parked a bit closer than before so Dad had to help watch both ends to ensure I wouldn't bump into the adjacent cars. And with that, we were off on the way home.
During the drive back down, I had to balance between wearing out my parents' brakes (since I was driving their car) and using lower gear. We were pretty much 40mph consistently on the way down, which was right at the speed limit, and it was handy since there was a cop watching for speeders around one of the larger pullouts.
At around 2:45pm or so, we'd eventually make it into the city of Azusa where we debated whether to take the freeway all the way back to a lunch spot in Rowland Heights or to keep going. The first choice was the Earthen Restaurant, but Julie wasn't so keen on eating there since there was nothing gluten free for her. She preferred this place called Manchan, which served healthier Hainan Chicken.
Well, when we saw on the iPhone that Earthen was closed between 3pm and dinner time, that pretty much sealed the deal that we were going to Manchan. That said, the parents also encouraged me to drive local along Azusa Blvd all the way to the Rowland Heights area. But as I had feared, it took much longer to go this way than by freeway even if the freeways had traffic on them largely because of the amount of full stops we had to make for each traffic light.
So it wouldn't be until about 3:35pm when we finally arrived at the Manchan Restaurant for a very late lunch. At least as we were starting to get hangry, the food definitely hit the spot though I contend that it was nothing on Julie's Mom's version of the Hainan Chicken where she would also make very delicious and garlicky fish sauce to go with the dish along with her broth-steamed rice.
Eventually at 5pm, we wound up at my parents' place where Julie was showing Mom how to make kefir from raw milk and the grains that we had given her. The kids were also very busy keeping each other company, and all the while, I was busy shooting hoops then trying to relax on Mom and Dad's mechanical massage chair.
Before we knew it, it was getting late and we decided that we'd have a family dinner at their place. After the dinner was over, my brother and his wife showed up with their daughter, and so we had about an hour or so of the immediate family bonding time as it because quite the informal family day.
When all was said and done, we'd finally be back home at 9pm. And so the short hiking excursion became a full family affair. And I guess despite the unexpected change of plans, when it comes to spending time with loved ones, it was something that I knew I didn't mind despite what things that needed to get done later on.
We were also looking forward to the Yosemite Trip where the same folks on the Soldier Creek hike would also be partaking on that most sacred of national treasures. Again, it would be the first time that Joshua would be visiting that place, and we very much looked forward to seeing how he would react. It would also be the first time Tahia would be visiting that place being old enough to be aware of what's going on around her, and we were also really looking forward to how she'd react, especially since the waterfalls there were pumping now...
Have a waterfall travel story you'd like to share?
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