Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Top 10 Sights Along the San Gabriel River

Below, in no particular order, is my personal list of top sights along the San Gabriel River. These are all views that caught my attention and make the San Gabriel River a special place for me. I invite you to add to the list with your own observations.

Falls at Crocket Gardens – Knight Spring at Crocket Garden is one of the major springs along the North San Gabriel River. After emerging from a cleft in a limestone bluff, the spring runs a short distance before plunging over a cliff into Lake Georgetown. The spring and falls can be seen by hiking the San Gabriel River Trail from the Cedar Breaks Trail head.

Wildflowers Along the River – Wildflowers are abundant throughout the San Gabriel River valley. My favorite spots are along the North San Gabriel between Georgetown and Lake Georgetown and in Berry Springs Park. Among many spectacular flowers is the day flower (right) which grows in shady spots along the river.

Fall Color Along the San Gabriel River Trail – Rounding a curve in the river trail, my breath is taken away by the brilliant autumn colors—the yellow of cedar elms, scarlet of red oaks, and orange of sycamores—on a cool fall morning.

Alligator Gar – Peering down from a Farm to Market Road bridge that crosses the upper North San Gabriel River, I catch sight of a half dozen 6 ft long alligator gar, slowly nosing through the shallow water below like miniature submarines.

Waterfall on the North San Gabriel – One of my favorite sights is water cascading over this low water dam on the North San Gabriel River.

Dinosaur Tracks in the San Gabriel – Scientifically, one of the most spectacular sights along the San Gabriel River is tracks left by dinosaurs that walked the river banks 100 million years ago.

Georgetown Salamanders – Nothing makes my day more than turning over a rock in a spring along the San Gabriel River and catching sight of a Georgetown salamander.

Snowfall on the San Gabriel – An unexpected January snowfall blankets the riverside with a soft white cover, through which peak the tracks of numerous small mammals.

Golden Checked Warbler – This beautiful and endangered species, easily recognized by the bright yellow spots on the sides of its head, is common in Russell Park and Taylor Ray Hollow and other spots around Lake Georgetown.

River Bluffs – Among the most common and yet remarkably beautiful sights along the San Gabriel are the limestone bluffs that often tower 50 feet or more above deep water on a curve of the river.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Shin Oak

A distinctive trademark of the rocky uplands surrounding the San Gabriel River is Shin Oak (Quercus sinuata var. breviloba). This tree goes by a number of different names, including Shin Oak, Bigelow Oak, Scrub Oak, Scalybark Oak, Bastard Oak, and White Shin Oak. A small but beautiful tree, it commonly reaches only 10 to 12 ft in height, although occasionally larger trees of 20-30 feet in height can be found. Multiple stems of Shin Oak are usually found within a few feet of each other, the stems twisting upward in strange and interesting shapes. Its large multi-lobed leaves are light green in color, presenting a delightful contrast to the dark green foliage of the junipers among which it typically grows. The most distinctive characteristic of Shin Oak is its light gray, shaggy, and peeling bark, the origin of one of its other common names—Scalybark Oak.

Hiking the Good Water Trail, I often encounter Shin Oaks scattered among the junipers and live oaks. When I first observed these small trees, I wasn’t sure of the species. Their large, lobed leaves suggested they were part of the white oak group, and their scaly bark and multi-stemmed growth forms eventually revealed their true identity. I love seeing these small and interesting trees as I explore the bluffs and ravines that overlook the San Gabriel River.