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SCVNews.com | Opinion/Commentary: Forest Memories | 09-18-2016
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Take a Hike | Commentary by Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel
| Sunday, Sep 18, 2016
teepee

DianneErskineHellrigelMy parents instilled a love of nature in me from Day 1. We spent as much time as possible in the forests of California – camping, hiking, skiing, fishing, and at night we spent hours staring at the millions of stars above us. The forest was our second home, in a way. For a child like me, there was nothing that could compare to the amazing, continual sights, sounds and smells that the forest can offer. It’s just one eye-opening experience after another.

We would picnic on the Sam Merrill Trail every weekend, staring out over the vast expanse of the forest. The tall trees and gorgeous chaparral seemed endless. My grandparents before me would take the train up Mt. Lowe to the hotel for a weekend getaway. My grandfather would play cards and drink sarsaparilla. Grandma would do her best to try to be a lady of leisure for a couple of days as she gossiped with her girlfriends. My family has a lot of wonderful memories of the Angeles National Forest.

The most outstanding visit was my very first visit to the forest. My dad and mom took me to a then-primitive campground that my dad’s friends used as a base camp when they hunted. I was just an itty-bitty kid, so I don’t know the name of the camp, but I think it must have been Buckhorn Campground, which is now a beautiful, well-established camp on Highway 2, thirty-four miles north of La Canada. It was originally a hunter’s camp and was so named because of an enormous pair of antlers that someone nailed to a tree. The antlers are long gone, but the memory remains.

deh091816iBuckhorn Campground has been improved since the old, primitive days, and it offers large sites that will accommodate multiple tents. Most sites have large apron driveways for a camper, trailer or multiple cars. All sites have a fire ring with a picnic table and a barbecue grill. (Check with the ANF Ranger offices about weather conditions, fire permits and if campfires are currently allowed.) Potable water is available throughout the campground. There are also vault toilets throughout. You cannot make reservations there, so all sites are on a first-come, first-served basis. It is recommended that you get there early if you’re camping during the summer or on weekends.

I visit Buckhorn as often as possible. I go there with the memories of my mother and father and the fun we would have hiking or swimming in the natural pools by the little waterfall and being amazed at the power of Mother Nature at the bigger waterfall, especially in the spring. It’s a way I can be close to my parents, who are both gone, while enjoying being is such a gorgeous place now. It’s a tradition.

deh091816cI just visited Buckhorn this month and brought 50 of my hiking buddies with me. It was their first adventure at Buckhorn but definitely not their last. I have the luxury of a huge teepee as my forest tent, and I’m equipped with lots of wonderful accoutrements that my parents didn’t have.

“Glamping” makes entertaining my friends so much fun. One afternoon we enjoyed a charcuterie party in my tent and breakfast every day in our separate dining tent. My friends can’t wait to go back to beautiful Buckhorn again.

There are many incredible hikes in and around Buckhorn. If you’re a hiker, you pretty much have a week’s worth of hikes right there. Hikes I’ve done from Buckhorn are:

deh091816d* Buckhorn to Mt. Waterman

* Buckhorn Campground to Cooper Canyon Trail Camp to Cloudburst Summit to Buckhorn

* Buckhorn Peak

* Buckhorn Campground to Little Rock Creek

* Buckhorn Campground to Devil’s Punchbowl

* Buckhorn Campground to Burkhart Saddle

* Buckhorn Campground to Buckhorn Falls

* Buckhorn Spring

* Buckhorn Campground to Mt. Waterman to Three Points

* Buckhorn to Pleasant View Ridge (and on to Devil’s Chair and/or the South Fork Campground)

* Buckhorn to the High Desert National Recreation Trail to multiple destinations

deh091816fThe Pacific Crest Trail runs through Cooper Canyon, so you can go north or south and hit all kinds of wonderful spots from there. If you have a lot of time, you can even travel to Mexico or Canada directly on the Pacific Crest Trail. Now, wouldn’t that make a good story to tell your friends?

If you are lucky enough to spend time in Buckhorn, you might also want to try your luck fishing in Little Rock Creek. There are beautiful, nice-sized, wild rainbow trout in there. But don’t tell anyone.

In winter, the access gates on Highway 2 are usually closed due to snow. But you can still park the car near Mt. Waterman or a little below the closed gate and snowshoe in to Buckhorn. Snowshoeing the trails in winter is extra special. Mt. Waterman also has ski lifts that operate periodically.

According to experts, campsites 7, 8, 15, 18, 22, 23 and 27 are the best. My personal favorite is 18, but I could be happy at any of the sites. They are all beautiful, and each has something special to offer.

The typical season begins in April or May and usually extends through October. Check with any of the ANF ranger stations on weather and gate closures. If you visit, please remember to clean your campsite thoroughly before you leave. The next guest will appreciate that.

deh091816eIf you’re a birder, you can find a never-ending supply of birds to watch and photograph. In spring the wildflowers are abundant, and the Burkhart trail is one of the only areas I know where the gorgeous, wild, endangered lemon lily grows. May is the usual blooming time, but this will depend on the weather each season.

You can also bike nearby, although Buckhorn is surrounded by the Pleasant View Ridge Wilderness and the San Gabriel Wilderness, so no mountain biking is allowed on those trails.

Wildlife is abundant, and you are likely to see deer, a bear, badgers, squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, opossums and lots of birds. The area around Buckhorn is heavily forested with Jeffrey pines and incense cedar. Both trees are highly aromatic and beautiful. This is what I remember most about the camp as a child – those amazing, huge trees. The bark of the Jeffrey pine smells like vanilla. It was the original “scratch ‘n sniff” toy for kids. And the bark of incense cedar trees look like redwoods. To a kid, they are just as big.

deh091816gThe forest is a “healthy candy store” for kids. Every rock, every lizard, every tree and cloud are new and wonderful experiences. If you have children, take them into the forest. And the new San Gabriel National Monument is the best of the forest to visit. President Obama made this proclamation Oct. 10, 2014. It is truly the gem of Los Angeles County.

The forest has taught me to love and respect nature. There is nowhere I’d rather be than among the trees and animals, breathing in the clean, fresh air, being close to a stream or waterfall, and admiring my serene surroundings. The forest brings me back to center when I need it most. It nourishes my soul. The forest and the National Monument are secrets that too few hold dear. This is why I lobby to protect the forest in wilderness, conservation areas and wild and scenic rivers. I want them to be available for future generations, just as pristine in the future as they were for me as a child.

If you haven’t been to Buckhorn, you absolutely must visit. It is but one of the many treasures to see in the San Gabriel National Monument.

Perhaps you can start some family traditions of your own and begin to collect some beautiful memories. Buckhorn is definitely a good place to start. Maybe I’ll see you there.

 

Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel is executive director of the Community Hiking Club and president of the Santa Clara River Watershed Conservancy. Contact Dianne through communityhikingclub.org or at zuliebear@aol.com.

 

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