Mill Creek FS to Green Valley FS

The transition from the San Gabriel Mountains is long and I arbitrarily picked the Mill Creek Fire Station as that point, mostly because I had some time then to blog.  But there is still one more peak, Mt Gleason, that is over 6000 foot before we settle down into the rolling hills around Agua Dulce.  The three days covered here start at the Mill Creek Fire Station, run past the North Fork FS, through the Vasuez Rocks, the small town of Agua Dulce and end at the Green Valley FS.  While the first and last of these fire stations are on paved roads, they all appear to be forest service stations that are concerned with supporting forest fire control rather than residential, and do not appear to be regularly manned.
The pictures and narrative below are in the order that they occur should you walk the trail in a continuous fashion.  But because the weather forecast was calling for snow above 5000 feet, and the initial part of this trail was going over 6000 and would be 25 miles long, I wimped out and did the middle of it first and then went back and did the beginning.  From descriptions I heard later, that was probably a wise decision.

The day after the storm dawns cool and gray with low clouds in the west and the mountains to the south also socked in.  Overhead was initially clear, but that also changed for a while before the day was out. The first 10 miles are pretty steady up but not at too extreme a rate so the hiking is easy.

At the center left is the Mill Creek fire station, and the road in the center of the picture is one that we had talked about as a possible escape route should I need rescuing; except it ended up being blocked off at the fire station.  Oh well, didn’t need it anyway.

Most flowers along the way are either yellow, white or purple.  These little red trumpets are one of the exceptions.  There seem to be a couple of varieties on this theme, but I love them all.  Actually I love just about all of the flowers.

Update 5/15: Joanne identifies these as Penstemon.

The terrain the trail wanders through is pretty diverse.  So long as you are not looking for a rain forest, you will likely find something to suit you if you just keep walking long enough.  You will find a number of variations of the shaded forest theme, grassy lined pathways, sandy trails through chaparral, traversing along steep mountain slopes, strolling along a wide valley floor, and walking a high ridge top.

Around mid morning the visibility had been reduced quite a bit.  I could easily see where I was, but had no idea just where that was, where I had been or where I was going.  It is peaceful in a way, but I missed the ability to see the far ridges and search for the trail snaking across them.

I am sure Dr Seuss must have walked through southern California before writing some of his books.  So many of the plants look like something straight out of one of his books that I grew up with.

Like many of the plants here, I have no idea what the little guy to the right is, but the small flower looks like it is setting in a small green saucer.  Each ‘saucer’ is about an inch across.

Update 5/15: According to Joanne this is Minor’s leaf.

At first it looked like some soap suds or something in this yucca, but then I realized that it was actually the remnants of the previous days snow.  The two or so inches didn’t last long.  There were more and bigger patches to come, but none that held more than a gallon or two of snow.

This plant is reminiscent of heather, long spindly stalks with tiny leaves.  But then these violet flowers pop out on the ends of the stalks and the drab little shrub is transformed.

Update 5/15: Joanne identifies these as Prickly Phlox.

Off and on through out this section are warnings about recent fires and the damage they have caused to trees, warning us to be careful of dead snags because they may easily topple over.  So guess where I had a late breakfast?  At the top of My Gleason, and as I prepared to go I realized that this was what surrounded me.  Oh well.

 The soft fuzzy flower or seed head that I pictured from the climb into the San Gabriel Mountains; the one I saw only at a single location!  They have become profuse.  And what I pictured before was actually the seed head.  At right is the actual flower.  This view is climbing up on many of the shrubs along the trail coming down from My Gleason.

As I am poking around at the fuzzy seed heads from the flower pictured above, I suddenly recognize the shrub the vine is wrapped around.  Great; Poison Oak.  Just as the Poodle Dog Brush starts to taper off, Poison Oak takes its place.  Fortunately it has been easy to avoid if one is a bit careful and keeps an eye out for it.

At some point in the afternoon I notice a trail winding along the far ridge line.  And sure enough, an hour or so later I am waking on it.  At the far left of the valley formed by these two ridges is the North Fork FS.

Kat, the young lady to my left, is an Aussie who has lived in London for the past 8 years.  We walked together for a few hours on San Jacinto, and then hunkered down together to weather a big storm on the mountain.  It was good to see her again at the Acton KOA.  She had apparently been snowed on the previous night as well.  Maybe someone to avoid being with in the mountains.

 About a third of a mile past the Soledad Canyon Rd, near the Acton KOA, is this monument to the completion of the PCT.  Between the road and the monument the trail passes over the Santa Clara River, just a little stream, and the trashiest section of trail I have yet encountered.  And to top that off, it appears like vandals have stolen the plaque from the front of the monument.  But is was cool to see.  And after leaving the monument the trail ascended to higher, drier and cleaner regions.

I saw this distinctive rock from the road and was happy to see that the trail passed right under it.  There are a number of ‘harder’ rock formations that withstand erosion better than most of the hills in this area.

This appears to be some form of succulent, similar to the Chickens & Hens that I have growing at home.  Very pretty and just starting to bloom.  I suspect the recent rain has helped them, and other plants in the area, to put on a display of color for me.

As the trail winds between Acton and Agua Dulce, it wanders along these low rolling hills.  Such a contrast with the San Gabriel Mountains of the past few days.

 This strange little plant, actually a small shrub, seems to have no leaves, at least that I can tell.  Just green stems.  Later I found out one of its names is Mormon Tea and apparently has some medicinal uses.

Looking back from near the top of a small rise, one can see the convoluted course of the trail.  I oftentimes wonder if the trail builders were paid by the mile.  I know there is a good reason for the course it takes, but sometimes it is beyond me.

 Blooming Yucca’s are not as common here as they were further south, so it was pretty cool to see this pair blooming right next to each other.

The light at the end of the tunnel!  This drainage tunnel is probably 50-60 ft below highway 14, which was built high on a fill rather than descend down to the valley floor.  And it got pretty dark in the middle.  You could see the ends from the middle, but not the ground you were walking on.

 The Vasquez Rocks is a area with some very interesting rock formations.  It is somewhat reminiscent of the Valley of Fire in Nevada that we visited last year.  The trail winds around down in a gully for a mile or so and then pops up on top for another mile or two before getting to Agua Dulce.  Apparently this is a pretty popular place to film westerns, and there was a music video being filmed when I went past the picnic grounds.

Agua Dulce is the largest town that the PCT actually passes through, and it has a number of establishments of interest to hikers, including a grocery store, a hardware store, a pizzeria and a cafe.  And there are a lot of the business with the word Sweetwater in them.  Come to find out that is what Agua Dulce means.

After the completion of the road walk through Agua Dulce, the trail goes back up into the hills and kind of circles around the place to the left.  Lots of truck, RV’s and cars.  And something that looks like a big jetliner, minus the wings and tail section.  How it got here, or why, is beyond me.  But it was an interesting sight.

The trail climbs a bit before descending to this valley and then up the far side.  While there is an occasion tree, or even small stand of trees, it is mostly shade-less, and I suspect it will stay that way for the rest of the trip.  Probably about time to break out the sun umbrella, although the temps are supposed to be cooling for the next few days.  It has been cooler and wetter than normal for this time of year, and for that I am very grateful.  I really don’t like the heat all that much.

 Looking back from near the top of the days first big climb.  I believe the range in the distance is the San Gabriel Mountains, with Baden-Powell being the high point at the left.  Just 4 days ago I stood on top of that peak looking this way.  Seems so long ago.

Much of the trail in this area looks much like this; sandy trail bordered by various chaparral plants. I have yet to see what I think of as desert, but the worst is yet to come.  Antelope Valley is coming, an I am definitely not looking forward to that part.

 An earlier blog post had a picture of a green spiky fruit hanging off a vine, something called Cucamonga Manroot.  Well here is what it looks like when it is ripe; even more unappealing, at least as something to eat.  And apparently nothing does eat them.  Instead the bottom end pops open and it’s big seeds drop out.  Along some portions of the trail, the shrubs are covered with dead and dying manroot vines, with lots of these scary looking fruits.

The Bouquet Reservoir.  This made quite a striking picture set in the middle of the drab green and brown landscape.  Unfortunately this is as close as the trail takes us.

 Out in the middle of nowhere one comes upon this ‘oasis’ set beneath some of the taller scrub oak alongside the trail.  It has half a dozen chairs, all occupied when I passed by, an ice chest with ice cold sodas, a trail registry, a blowup pink flamingo, and other whimsical items.  I stopped long enough to drink a cool root beer.  Others seemed to stay for hours.  It was definitely a refreshing stop, and a real blessing.  Apparently it is sponsored by the Anderson’s, who also open their home and grounds to hikers.

I met Growler near the top of the first climb of the day, struggling under the weight of a fully loaded pack.  When I found out she was someone Sue had encountered a couple of times, I told her that Sue would be at the next road with a car and might be willing to carry her pack the next 12 miles to the day’s last road.  She perked right up and chased me the last few miles to the road.  By the time Sue got there she found several others interested in her Sherpa service.  I think she carried 3 full packs and parts of two others.  And then entertained a couple dozen hikers at that last road near the Green Valley FS.  I think she really enjoyed getting to mother someone besides me for a change.

Today is a lazy zero day.  Do a little writing, sleep lots and eat more.  Then get ready to challenge the desert tomorrow.

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