Monday, October 26, 2009


Golden leaves of the California Black Oak glow like stained glass in the afternoon sun.

Canyon view along Highway 38

Oak trees amongst the pines, showing off their ability to change color in the fall.

Fall color between the pines.

Hairy Woodpecker probing bark crevices on fallen Douglas Fir.

Tracks of California Ground Squirrel in the soft dirt around the picnic table.

Tracks of...

...Steller's Jay. This fellow hung around all day, hoping we would drop some goodies for him. Although it is fun to do and even more fun to watch, I do not feed wildlife in the forest.

Cloudless Sulpher

Dark-eyed Junco--their colors blend in so well with the ground and pine needle litter that they are often hard to spot.

Shadows between the tree trunks.

Willows framed by pines in a creek bottom along Highway 38 just above Barton Flats.

Fiery willows as far as I could see.

Black Oaks showing off.

Lichen or moss striping a granite boulder.

A closer view...

A detail shot.

Black Oak stump with fall leaves.

Detail of bark.

Since most of my favorite spots in the Angeles National Forest are either burned or closed, I have been searching out new forest areas to visit that are within easy reach of Los Angeles. This past week I have been craving the air and trees of the high country, so I decided to drive up to the San Bernardino National Forest. There were reports of fall foliage, and that coupled with my desire to be among the big trees spurred me upwards.

The first thing that surprised me was how incredibly fast I got there; a drive that I thought would take two hours took a little over one to get to Redlands. Then from there it is about 45 minutes to get up to the 7400’ elevation.

This is the first time I’ve taken this route of Highway 38 and it was a very pleasant and scenic drive. It begins at the bottom point of the Santa Ana River bed, which is incredibly wide at certain points. We made a one pit stop at Thurman Flats Picnic Area. This is a nicely developed area that would be a great place for families with small children. There are picnic tables, restrooms (vault toilets but no sinks or running water, so bring hand sanitizer), and a nature trail that goes along the seasonal stream.

Here is a quote from one of the interpretive signs:

“Imagine a concert given by over a million traveling singers! They give this performance almost any Spring or Summer morning in the San Bernardino Forest. From April to October, as many as 250 migratory bird species stop here on their world tour; every Spring and Fall they take their show on the road. Traveling from as far away as the rainforests of South America, they migrate north in the Spring. With the arrival of the cold weather they return to their warmer southern homes. When looking for a place to nest, forage, and rear their young, or simply looking for a rest stop on their flight north, songbirds prefer to stop where food is abundant and life is easy. They may seek out lakes, stream banks, desert, chaparral, or meadows. All these places can be found in the San Bernardino National Forest. Imagine silence instead of songbirds. Forests in both North and South America are fast disappearing. As the forests disappear, so will the songbirds.”

Though poorly written and a bit grim-sounding at the end, it does give folks a realistic picture of what songbirds go through and are up against.

I saw two American Robins and one Acorn Woodpecker while we were there—all in the same tree, and a few Band-tailed Pigeons flying.

We continued up the road, noticing brilliant yellow foliage even at the lower elevations, with poplar and cottonwoods shimmering golden in the sun. The scenery along the road is spectacular the high you climb, with interesting geologic formations and the beginning of the pine trees. We also noticed many golden yellow trees sprinkled in amongst the pines—California Black Oak sporting their fall foliage.

Our destination for the day was Heart Bar Campground, which is a few miles about Barton Flats. The road is paved for about a quarter mile, then turns into a graded dirt road that is pretty wash-boardy. It is okay for all but the most low-slung passenger vehicles, and SUVs can clip right along on it.

There is a fork and a parking lot about a mile in; beyond here you will need a pickup, SUV or jeep to go up any further, as the road is deeply rutted and filled with large rocks that could really tear up the under chassis of a passenger vehicle.

It was a pleasant 62-degrees and we found a nice little camp spot to day camp in. I don’t know if a permit to camp was required, but we did have a forest pass. There was only one other person at a camp spot, and maybe less than a dozen vehicles passed by as they went farther up road, so it was pretty quiet there.

There weren’t as many birds as I hoped to see, but it is late in the season and already getting down into the mid 30s at night here now:

Dark-eyed Junco (6)
Steller’s Jay (1)
Chipping Sparrow (1)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (1-male)
Red-tailed Hawk
Hairy Woodpecker
Common Raven

The light fades fast up in the mountains, and by 2 pm we had lost most of the sun at our spot. A cool breeze had risen, blowing through the treetops and sounding like the far-off whisper of surf. Rather than bundle up, we decided to strike camp.

The drive down the mountain was no less beautiful, as the sun was once again shining behind the foliage, making it glow like stained glass. We got glimpses of the lowlands, shrouded in smog, making us wish we did not have to descend. It was a most satisfying day and it left us with good memories that we can float on for a week.

1 comment:

Tabor said...

That is the only thing that I don't like about this time of year is how short the days become in the mountains. Lovely photos and thanks for taking me along.