Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Into the Semi-Wild, Behind the Santa Fe Dam...

With the boy on Spring Break this week, we took our mountain bikes out and did some riding on new dirt. While I often take the road bike down the San Gabriel River Trail, I have never taken my mtb out to explore that big open expanse behind the dam. I am not talking the park area around the lake, but more the semi-wilderness, crossed by dirt roads and more faint traces where, seemingly, few people ever go.

What we found back there were wildflowers galore, massive yuccas, berries in various states of ripeness (the dark red ones were fairly sweet), an expanse of deep woodland (which we could not really get into because of flooding), a little *hush* pump track *hush* which we of course tried out, the San Gabriel River which is running quite full right now, cages where U.S. Fish and Wildlife are capturing invasive cowbirds to help protect the nesting of our native birds, the backside of the Renaissance Faire (which started last weekend), a ton of tadpoles, old dried up frog carcasses, and a bunch of other stuff.

Eventually our nice dry route ran into water and mud, so we backtracked a bit, cut through the RenFaire parking, and rode along a faint track along the base of the dam. As we got closer to the outlet for the dam, we rode along a nice stream with grassy banks.

Eventually, that water we were riding alongside, as well as the water in the main channel of the river merged into a very small lake. It is funny, you never see much water being held back by the dam, but when you are at the bottom and look up you can see large tree trunks and other driftwood well up from the bottoms, and you know that at some point in the past it held much more. 

A couple river channels turned into many, which meant there was water and mud everywhere. In fact I think you could grow rice down there right now. When you have sticky, sloppy muck adhering to every moving part, it brings you to a standstill pretty quickly. We tried to get around the lake and find a ford across the river, but it was no use. So we dunked our bikes in the river which took off most of the gunk, climbed up some stairs alongside the outlet gates, crossed over, then back down, and continued on.

While the mud really backed-up behind my fork, my little alien friend, perched on the rear brake bridge, stayed high and clean. Even though we got most of the mud off in the river, when I gave the bikes a good cleaning at home later, I found all kinds of rocks and pieces of driftwood wedged into nooks and crannies. All this portaging and cleaning took its toll on the passage of time, so we were not able to explore as much as I wanted to; there are still those woods to find a way into, and the detention basins along the I-605, and then the main channel of the San Gabriel River with its bluffs. When things dry out a bit more, we will be back for those.


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