So where to begin? How about Duarte, it is as good a place as any, maybe better since the first two miles of this route takes you up the San Gabriel River Trail to its end at the mouth of the canyon. Actually since they extended the path a number of years ago you can stay on it for a bit further, or exit at the visitor center and take to the road from there. I split this ride into two parts mostly because the first half is so different from the second. The grades down in the lower portion of the canyon are more slight, and the gradual upward trend is broken by occasional short sections of descending. Anyway, take your eyes off the road ahead from time to time and you will notice the river rolling along off and down below to the right. It actually looked and sounded like there were a series of rapids along portions today, I suppose because they had the floodgates open below the lower dam, so there was a lot more water than normal rushing down river.
last bit of SGRT
San Gabriel River, framed
was it not cool of the bridge designers to provide these little windows to frame the view
how cute, they cut the mountain to match the dam
East Fork Bridge
It isn't long before you crest out (momentarily) at said first dam, the Morris Dam. If you are new to the canyon, congratulate yourself on reaching this first landmark. With the blue waters of the reservoir down below to your right you descend for a bit, but then start climbing again. Signs along the road warn you not to trespass or loiter, so keep the wheels spinning. Not too far beyond Morris Dam you may notice the concrete ramp perched above the water edge; this is a little of what remains of an old naval weapons testing base which began operations in World War II. Submarine-based weapons systems were developed here, things like torpedoes, and even the Polaris rocket. The base was decommissioned I believe in the 1990s. From here you enjoy a little more descending, before another climb, this time to peak above the second dam, San Gabriel Dam. Unlike Morris Dam, which is concrete, San Gabriel Dam is an earthen dam. Again you will ride along with the reservoir down below to the right until one final short descent brings you to the East Fork. If at the bridge you take a right and cross over you can eventually hook up to the GMR mentioned earlier and make a loop. But we will stay the course along Highway 39 which is mostly level for a bit now. Pass the OHV area and the Rincon Fire Station, tackle a short hill, and arrive at the West Fork. This is a popular fishing area and staging area for mtb trips along local trails.
the various fishing platforms along the West Fork are named for the fish that can be found there
deeper into the mountains
the river road
all's well that ends well
Since I arrived here having hardly broken a sweat, I decided I would ride along the West Fork for the seven miles it takes to get to Glenn Camp. This is a paved road, closed to traffic (though there may be occasional Forest Service or utility vehicles) so don't completely let your thoughts wander to the surroundings, as compelling as that may be. The 14 mile round trip West Fork is as easy a paved ride in the mountains as you will find. Watch for an upcoming "Bring Out Your Bikes" series ride taking place here, to be posted soon. Glenn Camp near roads end was my turn around point, and getting back was just a matter of shooting back down canyon. The wind today, did not seem to want me to leave, and kept trying to push me back up canyon. I won out though, hard not to when heading downhill. Friday traffic was light, especially returning; expect weekend traffic to be heavier, but still not bad considering how many people live in the city down below. By the way traffic tapers off dramatically beyond the West Fork, for whatever reason you may only be passed by a handful of vehicles on some days. Total distance for this first half of the Highway 39 ride was 38.3 miles, I rode it in 2.5 hours, though that included many stops for photos and the cruising speed West Fork section. Part two will cover the section between West Fork and Crystal Lake, the much steeper, more epic portion. One additional note on the road - like most mountain roads this one is not for the timid, there are sections where the pavement crumbles away into the dirt right at the white painted lane line, and you will be riding in the lane. The rewards are well worth the effort, but if you are at all apprehensive about riding in close proximity to motor vehicles, this may not be the ride for you.
My Favorite Routes II: Mountain Junction Loop
My Favorite Routes I: the Palmer-Evey