Impressive Regrowth Throughout Shortcut Canyon

Shortly after Angeles Crest Highway re-opened about 18 months after the Station Fire of 2009, I went on my first hike of the Silver Moccasin Trail through Shortcut Canyon. At the time, some regrowth was already visible largely due to the presence of water through the canyon. On the Sunday before Thanksgiving, I hiked this trail for the fifth time and found the changes so impressive that I continually felt hopeful that the burn areas would significantly recover much sooner than I had previously thought possible.

Shortcut Canyon near the San Gabriel River, November 22, 2015.

Shortcut Canyon near the San Gabriel River, November 22, 2015.

I was so surprised by the degree of change that I began looking through photos I’d taken on past hikes. For example, in some spots where there was no vegetation above ankle height, there are now trees that are at least eight feet tall. Fortunately, I’d unintentionally taken some photos from similar spots which allowed me to make comparisons tangible. There are three areas that I think are good enough to be worth sharing 1.

View down Shortcut Canyon on June 29, 2011

View down Shortcut Canyon on June 29, 2011

First, is a vista looking down Shortcut Canyon toward Mt. Wilson. In June of 2011, the mostly dry stream bed was visible with patches of regrowth intermixed throughout the wetter parts of the rocky bed.

View down Shortcut Canyon on April 29, 2012. Note the slight pan to the left to capture Oak tree regrowth.

View down Shortcut Canyon on April 29, 2012. Note the slight pan to the left to capture Oak tree regrowth.

In April of 2012, passing by the same area I was interested in the Oak trees beginning to show signs of regrowth taking place. While nice to see, this didn’t feel to me to be a major change yet.

View down Shortcut Canyon from November 22, 2015.

View down Shortcut Canyon from November 22, 2015.

Now, there are fairly tall trees displaying some nice fall color and blocking any view of the stream bed. I look forward to returning after this coming year’s El Nino season to see what it feels like to walk through here with water flowing through at a level comparable to or hopefully higher than I experienced in 2011.

No trees by the stream on August 10, 2011.

No trees by the stream on August 10, 2011.

The second set is from an area next to a rock wall along the stream. In 2011, there’s no evidence of trees next to the water with vegetation being ankle high at best.

A wall of trees now dividing the canyon on November 22, 2015.

A wall of trees now dividing the canyon on November 22, 2015.

Now, trees are typically over eight feet tall and block the view across the stream bed. In many places, with essentially a wall of trees dividing Shortcut Canyon, the canyon feels much narrower with newly constrained views.

Compared to 2011 when the stream was essentially vegetation free, this photo from March 30, 2014 shows significant change.

Compared to 2011 when the stream was essentially vegetation free, this photo from March 30, 2014, shows significant change.

It isn’t just the change from 2011 to now that I find so impressive. I hiked through here at the end of March in 2014. I almost wrote a similar post back then, but just didn’t have the time. The change is more dramatic now as illustrated by the photo above and below. While they are from somewhat different angles, there are a couple of trees (indicated by orange arrows on the photos) that provide a helpful yardstick to the growth between then and now. In 2011, one could easily look over the tops of the trees, now one cannot.

By November of 2015, the regrowth now forms a wall of trees in several areas visually dividing the canyon.

By November of 2015, the regrowth now forms a wall of trees in several areas visually dividing the canyon.

 

There are numerous other changes. Particularly noteworthy is the almost complete elimination of poodle dog bush. Pretty much everywhere one travels once making it down to the stream is dramatically denser with vegetation. I wouldn’t characterize it as overgrown (a group of four mountain bikers made it through when I was there), it could easily become overgrown soon without maintenance. The Station Fire’s impact is still keenly felt. There are currently a few fallen trees to negotiate around, over, or under to make it through. If you haven’t been in a while, it’s worth another trip to experience the changes. If you’ve never been, be sure to bring extra water for the trek back up to Angeles Crest Highway 2

Significantly more vegetation most everywhere along the stream in November 2015.

Significantly more vegetation most everywhere along the stream in November 2015.

Notes:

 


  1. For more photos showing similar transformations, see my photo page for this segment of trail. I’ve now organized the photos into separate galleries by year. 
  2. For step by step instructions for this hike, see my Silver Moccasin Trail from Angeles Crest Highway to West Fork Trail Camp page. For a map of the hike, scroll down to hike #46 on my 2015 hikes page. 

Death and Continued Life Along the Silver Moccasin Trail to the San Gabriel River

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.  

Purple flowers on regenerating Poodle Dog Bush (which can cause a rash), burned trees and green forest in the background.

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.

View near the top of Shortcut Canyon along the more exposed areas of the hike.

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.

View toward Mt. Wilson through the charred remains of shade trees.

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.

Frog along the stream leading to the San Gabriel River

 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.

The San Gabriel River where the Silver Moccasin Trail ends at 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.