The Big "I'm Avoiding The Rose Parade" Hike
first appeared in the December 1998 issue
New Year's morning...9 a.m....you're north of Colorado...millions of tourists fill the town for the Rose Parade and Bowl...you're trapped.
So, what better way to avoid the whole New Year's mess we call the Tournament of Roses than by hiking as far away as you can. And if it should be a hike that takes you past many a scenic ruin from the "Great Hiking Era," so much the better.
Unlike some of my earlier hikes, this hike is a long one - ten and a half miles long, to be precise. There's also a whole heck of a lot of up and down (about 2,000 feet, both ways). This is, therefore, not a hike to take if you don't feel up to it. While it is possible at the three mile mark to quit and walk a short two and a half miles downhill to your car, this is going to be after most of the up. Think carefully - maybe the tourists won't be that bad this year...
...So you're off. This hike starts out like the hike to above Millard Falls in last issue. Drive up Chaney Trail to where it "T's," park, and head off up the road past the locked gate (remember, you'll need a "Forest Adventure Pass" to park there). After a third of a mile or so, take the trail to the left of the road marked "Sunset Ridge Trail." This will drop you down into Millard Canyon, above the falls, as described last time. Once there, keep on hike up the canyon itself. The trail here is - like all canyon bottom trails in the San Gabriels - at best problematical. Every season's rains change the terrain, how much of the trail remains, and whether there's a trail at all. Still, it's hard to get lost in the narrow canyon bottom so just keep on marching.
After about a mile, you'll start seeing some of the remains of the Dawn Gold Mine, which operated on and off right up to the 50's. Old rock crushing mills, hunks of metal, what looks like the frame of a Model T, and the open mouths of a few of the mine shafts sit rusting (or crumbling, depending) away along the canyon floor.
These days, its tunnels are abandoned, flooded, and very dangerous to enter. Please do not do so - if too many people hurt or kill themselves in these tunnels the Forest Service will do something annoying like blow them up or fill them in or such and ruin what little remains of the mine for the historically inclined.
Don't spend all your time looking at the ruins, though, keep an eye out on the right for the start of the Dawn Station trail, which leads from the mine workings up to the roadbed of the old Mt. Lowe Railway. Decades ago when both the mine and the railroad were in operation, mules used to truck the ore up this steep trail to be picked up and taken into town by the trolleys. Today, you get to be the mule.
It's less than three-fourths of a mile to the top, but take it slow as it's pretty steep. Once you reach the top, though, you're in for a surprise. The "Scenic Mt. Low Railway Historical Committee" has just finished rebuilding the trolley stop that once stood there: Dawn Station. Admire their work, catch your breath, snap a picture if you have a camera, then continue on your way.
This is the spot I told you about that you could return to your car if need be. Head down - to the right - the fire road and after a couple of miles you'll see that it's the same road you came up on as far as the trail down into Millard.
But if you're still up for it - and the distant sound of marching bands still waifs up from the city far below - then go up (to your left) the fire road instead.
This road was built on the old roadbed of the Mt. Lowe Railway in the early 60's and pretty much follows the route the trolleys took. It winds and twists its way up into the mountains. You'll first go around Horseshoe Curve then, a little bit later, the road curves inside what was once the Great Circular Bridge - a bridge that made nearly a full circle around the ridge, ending up higher than it started. From there you can look over the entire Los Angeles Basin - wave at the tourists and continue on.
Now the road heads back into the mountains. When it passes through the narrow gap called Granite Gate you'll know you're nearly to the site of the Alpine Tavern, a little over five miles from where you started. Here would be a good place to stop, have lunch, and try to imagine what the Tavern once looked like before fires and Forest Service dynamite turned it into a few scraps of foundation and concrete.
Rested, let's continue on up the road, following the signs to Inspiration Point, less than half a mile away. The shelter here was itself recently restored and displays show you what the whole area looked like, along with showing you the last few remains of the One Man & a Mule Railroad. This is the highest point on the whole trip - it's very nearly all downhill from here.
Look to the south of the shelter, you should see the start of Castle Canyon Trail. This will take you down the canyon to Echo Mountain. It's one of the steepest trails I've ever seen. Take it carefully for the first mile or so. Then, it flattens out a bit. As the canyon widens out, look up and to your left. You should spot the castle-like rock formation that gave the area its name.
After a couple of miles, you swing south and climb slightly onto Echo Mountain, right near the ruins of the observatory. From here you can continue down and visit the ruins (and displays) of the old Echo Mountain House, the powerhouse, and the maintenance pit (amongst others).
After exploring your fill, head off up the old roadbed to the north. You'll see it curve its way along the canyon walls, heading for a large rounded pile of rock known as the Cape of Good Hope. Unlike the stretch of roadbed from Dawn Station to the Alpine Tavern, this small chunk has not been converted to a fire road. It remains much as it did when it was abandoned, fifty odd years ago. While the trestles are gone, the stone and concrete supports remain and in several spots you'll see ties, still in place after all this time.
At the Cape, you meet up again with the Mt. Lowe fire road (the trolleys went around the Cape, the road cuts its way through). You're on the final stretch now, but you've still got a choice on how to go. You can either hike on down the fire road right to where you parked the car (after about two and a half miles, of course). Or you can take the Sunset Ridge Trail, which starts right next to the Cape, back down into Millard Canyon where it joins up with the trail you took down to the canyon in the first place. From there you just retrace this trail back up to the fire road and then down to your car. It's a little longer, but a lot nicer than the road.
Either way, another hour or so will see you back at your car, extremely tired, but sufficiently far enough after the parade that the streets have cleared and you are now free to leave Pasadena. Congrats! You have successfully avoided the Rose Parade!