The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.
The WildeBeat edition 20: The Cucamonga Wilderness
This is a supplementary transcript of our audio program. CLICK HERE to listen to the original program, and see the associated show notes.
Twenty million people live down hill, yet you might have this wilderness all to yourself. Listen next, as we visit the Cucamonga Wilderness, on The WildeBeat.
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News from the Wildebeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.
This is program number twenty.
I'm Steve Sergeant.
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STEVE: Most visitors to the greater L.A. area of Southern California see an endless expanse of suburban sprawl. The area is famous for it's traffic and the tangle of freeways.
You think you can find unconfined solitude in a place like this?
It turns out, there are about half a dozen protected wilderness areas near L.A. No matter where you are in the area, you're no more than an hour from at least one of them.
But if you're looking for real wilderness solitude, the best place is probably right here off I-fifteen.
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The Cucamonga Wilderness straddles the border between the Angeles National Forest, and the San Bernardino National Forest.
I went on a day hike there with Sharon Barfknecht. She's the wilderness ranger. Gabe Garcia is her boss. He's the district ranger. He came along too, and so did a few other forest service staff and volunteers.
We're hiking out of the Middle Fork trailhead. That's the trailhead on the east side of the Cucamonga. It's not always the easiest one to get to. Sometimes the road washes out, or there's a landslide across it. Today, it was a rough ride in the ranger's four wheel drive pickup.
SHARON BARFKNECHT: I've got a first-aid kit. I've got all sorts of things — emergency stuff. So if you need it. Alfredo, Gabe, and I also have HTs if you need anything... [0:23.0]
STEVE: The trail climbs a south-facing mountainside. We're out in the sun; the only plants are low chaparral. The mountains look like loose piles of dry, gray, jagged rocks. But they are steep.
After the first seven hundred feet, the climb becomes more gradual. The vegetation changes to manzanita, and taller trees. But the trees here are all burnt.
Gabe Garcia was here during the fires.
GABE GARCIA: This one burned in areas that hadn't burned in the hundred year history we have. So some of it we were quite surprised. I think it was a matter of the extended drought about six years at that time, plus right at the Santa Ana winds. And the winds just took it and as I recall there were some pretty severe burn areas; high intensity burn areas. It's going to take a long time for it to recover. The combination of the drought and the fire, the heat from the flames has really decimated some of the really nice doug fir stands, which are pretty rare down here — big cone douglas fir. Our projections though as for sheep, it's probably benefitted them. Big horned sheep; it's the nelson big horn here. It's created bigger openings for them. their mode of protection is to see whatever the predator is from a distance. So that's going to help them I think. There's good with the bad on this one. [0:54.6]
STEVE: Farther up, the canyon narrows. The trees look healthy here. We've made it to the sign that marks the boundary of the Cucamonga Wilderness.
SHARON BARFKNECHT: The most special thing that just completely stands out to me every time are the canyon vistas. Whether I'm looking up-canyon at the chaparral and all the other types of vegetation up there, or looking down canyon, down in the valley toward Redlands. The canyon vistas really impress me. When you're up on top of Cucamonga Peak the views that you can get from this wilderness are pretty amazing.
STEVE: South you're looking across a large developed area with lots of industry and people, and what do you see the other directions?
SHARON BARFKNECHT: You see the forest the other directions! You see like today we saw those gorgeous fall colors, the steep terrain, the waterfalls if you know where to look.
STEVE: What was interesting to me was the tremendous contrast between the vegetation and the life in the canyon and just a little ways out of it. The terrain's very different, isn't it?
SHARON BARFKNECHT: Yeah, I like to think of it as the dynamic trail. I mean, as you go from the trailhead to like where we went, it does change. From the incense cedars that we have out there, the riparian areas down by the creek, and that kind of thing. And when you're lucky, the bear and the big horn sheep when you're out there.
STEVE: How many opportunities have you had to see some of these larger wildlife that are in this area?
SHARON BARFKNECHT: I've seen one bear out there, at the Stonehouse Camp. Haven't had the opportunity yet for a bighorn sheep. [1:30.5]
STEVE: What was it that I heard somebody saying about the problems with feral dogs and the sheep?
SHARON BARFKNECHT: Unfortunately we have people that dump their animals, or the dogs become abandoned, and they become feral, and that might be a cause as to why the big horn sheep population has declined. [0:09.3]
STEVE: We trample red and gold maple leaves on the trail. After all of that yucca and manzanita, that's something I didn't expect to see here. Then we arrive at Third Stream Camp. It's only about two and a half miles in. But this is actually as far as most visitors get.
What's the scenic attraction at this camp?
SHARON BARFKNECHT: Two waterfalls that are fifty feet high, each, with a pool in between. You do need to boulder-hop to get there; there's no maintained trail to get there. [0:11.7]
STEVE: If we were to hike another three miles, and climb sixteen hundred feet, we'd be at Ice House Saddle. We'd be in a good position to climb six different peaks, each over eight thousand feet tall. We'd also be over halfway to Ice House Canyon, which is the popular west-side trailhead.
SHARON BARFKNECHT: They do get a lot more use because they do have the peaks on those two sides. Those two peaks aren't accessible on this side as easily as it is on the other side. So they get a lot of peak baggers on that side. And Ice House Canyon is more easily accessible from the L.A. area, and that trail itself is easier on the legs too. So it's an easier hike. [0:27.2]
STEVE: One of the trees by the creek here has a boulder lodged up in it's branches. Nobody could have put it there, it's too big — it had to be carried there by a major flood.
Gabe Garcia says the stream bed has eroded about four feet deeper than last time he was here.
GABE GARCIA: There's some of the canyons that are very explosive. It seems that what the storms do is they travel up the valley and take a turn into the mountains and hit one of the mountains. You know they get up to ten thousand feet. And when it hits the mountain it just drops everything. We had thirty six inches in this canyon in one weekend. So that explosion makes for quite an event. And then the rest of the year it's just a stream flow. This year we have a pretty good flow — almost a river. [0:30.2]
STEVE: Scientists talk of geologic time to describe processes that take hundreds of thousands, or even millions of years. But major geologic changes seem to happen here almost overnight.
As we hiked back down, we talked about how little use the Cucamonga gets. If you average it out, only three or four people visit it per day.
STEVE: So this remains sort of the undiscovered wilderness of the greater Southern California area?
GABE GARCIA: Yeah it does, and I like it! It's surprising to be amongst twenty million people and find a place where there's nobody. Within an hour you're into a place that's absolutely quiet; just wind, water, animals. That's it. You can't beat it.
STEVE: And the exciting thing is, you're going to make it bigger.
GABE GARCIA: We are, we hope to make it bigger. And we've recommended extensions to the Cucamonga Wilderness in the south, to the east, and then to the north. So we've added quite a bit to the wilderness, almost, not quite doubled it but added quite a bit to it. Some of the stuff we added to the north is some of the most spectacular pine stand, or conifer stands in there. Just huge ponderosa pine, just spectacular scenery.
STEVE: In the new potential wilderness areas how accessible are they now? Are there trails there?
GABE GARCIA: Yeah there are some trails there for some of the old camping areas. There's a road that drives right adjacent to it, so it's pretty accessible. The part in the east isn't as accessible. But when you get up into the north there's a pretty good road system that bisects between the Sheep Mountain extension, and the Cucamonga extension. And so right there — it isn't as steep up there either, so walking through there would be great. [1:20.?]
STEVE: After we cross the boundary again back out of the wilderness, we take a detour to Stonehouse Camp. This is the most popular campsite near this trailhead.
It's the only backpacking site in the canyon where fires are permitted.
What do our listeners need to know if they're going visit overnight here?
SHARON BARFKNECHT: I would tell you first that you need to have a permit. It's a free permit that you can get up to ninety days in advance if you want to. Up to twelve people per permit. You do need to watch your step; watch for rattlesnakes, 'cause they do like to hide in the rocks. But for people who want to go for it, it's not hard, it's not impossible to do.
STEVE: There's another permit that's required that would be foreign to those of us that don't frequent the National Forests here in the Southern California area, and that's the permit you need on your car to park.
SHARON BARFKNECHT: Yeah, that's the forest adventure pass. It's good in all Southern California National Forests — the Los Padres, the Cleveland, the Angeles, and of course this forest. And it's five dollars per day, thirty dollars per year. [0:45.?]
STEVE: The other thing you need to know is that the Lytle Creek road washes out sometimes. So you should call the forest service office about road conditions before you make the trip.
The Cucamonga Wilderness is a unique and spectacular wild place. Next time I'm in the L.A. area, and I need to get away, this is a place I'm likely to go.
You can find links to more information about the Cucamonga Wilderness on our web site.
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Next time - backcountry ski guides for the Sierra.
The Wildebeat is produced by Steve Sergeant for Effable Communications. Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. Please see our website for ways to ensure future editions of The WildeBeat. Send your comments to webmaster at wildebeat dot net, or call our comment line at 866-590-7373.
This has been The WildeBeat, program number twenty. Thank you for listening.
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