He's a journalist (Opinion Page Editor and columnist for the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Pasadena Star-News and Whittier Daily News),
an educator (adjunct professor at Cal State Fullerton and Azusa Pacific University)
and a blogger (at Temple City Daily Photo).
He's also the 2011 recipient of the Leopold Award for Distinguished Editorial Writing.
Please welcome guest author Steve Scauzillo.
photo by Steve Scauzillo
Rip Van Winkle, I’m not.
Though I like to fancy myself as someone who lives a wanderlust life, loafing around, meandering the mountain trails, stumbling on something new that catches my imagination.
Then, wrapping my camera eye around it so I can take that moment home with me like I used to do the lightning bugs from grandfather’s back yard on Long Island, though just for a few moments. There’s only so many mayonnaise jars a kid can hold.
In the Washington Irving story, Rip wandered the “Kaatskil Mountains” in New York until one day, the sweet mountain air made him so tired he fell asleep and did not awake until 20 years had passed. You can read the story for the ending. But I’m more interested in applying Irving’s lessons to me, and to you and our local mountains, the San Gabriel Mountains. It’s true, I enjoy a hike into the back country, or even the lower canyons. These forays chill me to the bone every time. On my blog, which starts where I live in Temple City, just a few miles south and east of Pasadena, I’ve posted about the places I’ll go ….usually my favorite mountain haunts. They are timeless respites from a chaotic world. But do they change over time? If I fell asleep under an oak in Marshall Canyon and woke up 20 years later, would I recognize the place?
I hope so.
I want to tell you about a place where I had a Rip Van Winkle moment. It’s called Crystal Lake. I last stepped foot there around 1991, when I was a young reporter working on a story about habitat restoration. I’ll always remember the nudge in my rib from the ranger’s bony finger telling me to watch out! I was about to put my hand on the cleft of a rock that was home to a curled up rattlesnake.
Crystal Lake is the only natural lake in the San Gabriels. It is oblong, surrounded by pines, and filled with fresh water. It had suffered drainage problems and in 2002-03, was filling up with ash from the nasty Curve and Bridge fires. That’s when it was closed to the public. Nine years later -- about half the length of a Van Winkle nap -- Highway 39 had reopened and the place was accessible. Had it changed in those 9 years?
Since 39 reopened this past March, the lake is accessible. To get there, take the 210 Freeway east, exit at Azusa Avenue and go north. This becomes Highway 39 or San Gabriel Canyon Road. Once you leave the last house in your rearview mirror, you enter some of the best canyons, riparian and later, pine forests in the world. And you don’t need a four-wheel drive car or chains. You may need chains in winter, so check with Caltrans first. Crystal Lake is 23 miles up the road, about 35 minutes from Azusa. You have to take the right turn-off before the 39 closure. The campground has been restored but is not yet operational.
The lake store is a story in itself. It’s owned and operated by Adam Samrah, who himself survived the Curve Fire by ducking into a low spot in the canyon and waiting for the conflagration to end. He vowed he would never leave the mountain, the place God spared his life. And he’s kept that promise. His store, the Crystal Lake Snack Bar is always open. He makes a mean chili.
If you go, don’t fall asleep up there. Well, OK, go ahead, it’s a perfect place for a nap. Just wake up sooner than 20 years later. But if you don’t, answer that question for me: Does it still look the same as it did 20 years earlier?
I hope so.
photo by Steve Scauzillo