Hiking the Silver Moccasin Trail from Angeles Crest Highway down to the San Gabriel River is a journey crisscrossing burn areas showing signs of forest regeneration with areas that survived the Station Fire. Much of the time the trek feels as though one is walking through a quilted landscape with patches of burn, patches of regeneration, and patches of forest that survived in view simultaneously.
I found this tapestry simultaneously sad and hopeful. The obvious sadness I felt while thinking about what was lost was tempered with constant exposure to what remained and what was regenerating.
When I first hiked this trail in June 2011, the flowers were in full bloom.
Up near the top of Shortcut Canyon the blooming flowers were what made the process of forest regeneration so apparent–especially in areas where it was clear that there were no shade trees in the past. The purple flowers are from the Poodle Dog Bush and can cause a rash. Seeds from these flowers remain dormant over long periods of time waiting for fires to wake them up. While the Station Fire was a disaster of human origin, I find it helpful to think about the fact that fire is inevitable in the forest and that some plants are lying around waiting for fire in order to cause their birth.
In parts where the charred remains of shade trees were dominant, what was lost became more prominent. Without the foliage however, views were less obstructed. Almost like finding out something you didn’t know about someone at a funeral, there were far off vistas to see that were previously blocked. Like people, there is more to the forest than can be seen from one perspective.
Part of what makes this particular hike hopeful is that about halfway down Shortcut Canyon the trail follows a stream leading to the San Gabriel River. Where there’s water there is usually life. Seeing creatures living in the area helps bolster the feeling that eventually the forest will return again. My dominant thoughts through this area of the hike were focused on what is alive and starting to flourish. During a hike in August 2011, my brother and I saw around a hundred frogs and tadpoles along the stream.
For more photos of frogs, tadpoles, lizards and other creatures I saw along this trail, see the new Creatures Gallery.
The trail ends at the San Gabriel River (which in many spots appears unaffected by the fire). Across the river is the West Fork Trail Camp.
For more photos of the trail, directions, and other information, see the Silver Moccasin Trail from Angeles Crest to West Fork Trail Camp.