For "Paths of Decision" v.4/n.3
Summer is here and it is Trip Time again. This year, however, unlike earlier trips, I was going to be staying close to home. In fact, I was going no farther than Camp
Angeles, on the world-famous "Mount Figueroa Railway."
A trip I have not made since I was seven.
All right, laugh if you will. I mean, I live
in Silverstone. A trip on the Mt. Fig is one of the primary attractions for tourists coming
to Silverstone. And the closest I have approached the Mt. Fig railway is a trip to Sierra Madre a couple of times a year, or a hiking jaunt starting out from "Hiker's Station..."
...I am led to understand it's a rare native who visits the "Monumento De Aztec" in Ciudad Mexico too.
Anyway, it was a bright Monday and I am at the main S&J station in Silverstone, waiting for the 8 a.m. run to Mount Figueroa, Camp San Gabriel, and Camp Angeles. S&J treats the Mt. Fig run like an express - in spite of the fact that once it hits the Sierras, it is anything
but express-like in speed - and the cars make no stops between Silverstone and El Portal (and only two on the ones leaving from 'Angeles). So while I would normally
just walk down to the Greenway less than half a kim from my bungalow, for this trip, I had to come clear back up
to Central Silverstone just to board the train.
7.45, and the 7063
- a car two and a half times my age - hisses to a stop by the platform and we all start to board. I admit the car is well maintained and that the S&J keeps using it and its sisters of equal age on the line primarily because they feel it adds to the nostalgic enjoyment of the trip - and because many tourist groups would lynch them if they were retired - but it is still somewhat daunting to climb aboard a car that was old when your mother was born and prepare to take a trip along a route that is literally promoted
for having steep, narrow, and winding trackage.
While passengers find their seats (old wooden bench seating, that went out of style fifty years ago), handlers load their luggage into the rear compartment. And at 8.00 exactly, the now fully loaded 7063 hoots, and slowly pulls away from the platform.
It takes a surprisingly long time for you to reach the Mt. Fig cutoff, north of Pasqual.
Even on straight track, the Mt. Fig cars rarely exceed fifty and because of this, in spite of their "express" status, S&J runs them on the local tracks of the Greenway. Still, by 8.30, we pass El Portal - basically a site at the mouth of Las Flores Cañon with a sign welcoming you to the Mount Figueroa Railway and two big oaks that form a sort of "arch" over the tracks - and the Conductor begins his oft-told narration of the sights along the way.
I must admit, it really is a very pretty little trip. Oh, one section of the Sierra Madres looks pretty much like another and if forced, I'd have to say that it looks pretty much the same as it does up the Seco or the Tujunga or any of the other places I hike, right above Silverstone. But the ride in the old car is
pleasant, the air was cooling as we climbed, and even over the rattling, I could hear the stream far below.
Along the way, the car stops at several spots - like Rubio and Cañon Curve - so that you can get a better look. Then the conductor waxes poetic about "The Straightaway" (the longest piece of straight track - a whole hundred meters!) And "Burke's Tunnel." After we pass through the tunnel, we are nearly to our first real stop.
As the S&J measures things - which is from Highland's Junction - it's nearly twenty-five kims to Rimtop Junction, near the top of Mt. Fig.
Here, the car heads almost due east for a couple of kims until it hisses to a stop at the famous Mount Figueroa Hotel, at nearly 10.00. There is a thirty minute stop-over here, while those heading for the hotel clamber off and wait for their luggage and those continuing on stretch and perhaps take a rest-break.
Stop finished, the remaining passengers reboard, and we head back down to Rimtop Junction. Here we switch over to tracks that begin to descend the steep northern
side of Mt. Fig., winding even more - not that you thought that was possible - than the tracks up the other side.
It is after 11.00 when we finally pull into Camp San Gabriel
, deep on the West Fork of San Gabriel Cañon. There is another half-hour stop-over here, but this time, I am
getting off to stay - at least, until tomorrow.
I have a room at the Camp San Gabriel Lodge, which is only a five minute walk from the tiny station - basically, a short platform with a roof - along a nice, rock-lined trail. I check in at the front "desk" and head off to see what my room looks like.
It is actually quite nice, in its small, rustic way. The buildings are almost exclusively of local river-bottom stones, with some really lovely woodwork to highlight it. You do not (at least, at my price level) have your own bathroom, but there is one for every six rooms so sharing is not too much of a problem. The Lodge prides itself on having real feather beds and I must admit, they gave me one of the most restful nights I have ever had away from my own.
I spent the day walking the trails that thread in and out of the camp, taking silverprints. I even got a shot of a Santa Ana Butterfly, which I had been expressly told by my teacher twenty years ago, was not around at this time of the year...
I returned to the Lodge a little before it got dark and - after a quick wash - ate supper in the Lodge's dinning room. I then ambled over to the Camp's small dance pavilion and watched the couples dance for a while before heading back to my room for a couple of hours good read (the book on New England history Jim recommended last issue) and then to sleep.
The next morning, a well-rested David arose, had breakfast, and ambled down to Camp station at a blindingly early 11.00 to catch the morning's car. Right on schedule the S&J car rolled into the station (it was 7063 again - S&J tends to give the cars regular running times, 7065 has the noon run from Silverstone weekdays, while 7068 & 69 have the 9 & 1 runs from 'Angeles, respectively. This is so trainspotters know when to see their favorite cars) and I boarded for the trip to Camp Angeles.
As the car leaves Camp San Gabriel, it quickly begins to climb the north side of the cañon, heading for Camp Angeles. Twenty kims - a little over an hour - away, there are far
fewer stops or sights along this stretch of the route than along what I had gone over the day before. But then, the rails to Mt. Fig were built with themselves
being one of the primary attractions. The rest of the route to Camp Angeles was built at Los Angeles's request, simply to bring people to the camp.
In spite of this leaving the conductor quiet for long stretches of time, the trip really is quite beautiful. Pine trees, sparse on the Mt. Fig. leg, become quite common as you approach the camp.
I was surprised at the number of wildflowers still blooming this late in the season. Thank (or blame, depending on if you are a farmer or not) it on the impressive rainfalls we have been having the last few years.
By 12.30, we were slowly pulling into the town of Camp Angeles
, passing the cutoff to the small railyards the town possessed, some of the many "hunting 'cabins'" of the rich that dot the community, and rounding the curve to stop at Angeles Station, which rests at the foot of the Alpine Hotel.
I actually was not staying there, but instead, had booked a room at the less well known - but to my mind nicer - Newcomb Hotel, which stands on a high point overlooking the rest of the town. Fortunately they have a stage that takes you from the station to the hotel, because even with only two bags, I would not have wanted to walk it!
Checking in, I quickly unpacked and donned my hiking boots. I was only going to be here two days and I wanted to make sure I did not miss the hike down into Diablo Cañon, which is claimed to be one of the prettiest in the Sierra Madres.
The trail down into the cañon is short, but steep. I stopped several times to admire the view, but still I reached the bottom quite quickly. Then I walked up the cañon a brief distance to Hannah Falls. It is a dainty little fall, splashing down into a fair-sized pool at base. I rested here for quite some
time, while the sound of the falling waters relaxed me. I hardly even minded the trip back up the side of the cañon afterwards.
Wednesday: And while my room at Newcomb Hotel was quite a bit bigger than the one at the Lodge, its bedding was somewhat inferior. Combine that with the previous day's exercises and I was actually quite stiff when I awoke that morning. Fortunately, even if the bedding stiffened me, the wonderfully hot shower the hotel provides (in
the room) helped to quickly loosen things back up.
I went down to have breakfast in the hotel's "Pineland Inn," a surprisingly modern (given the rest of the hotel's decor) and large diner that serves breakfast and lunch to most of the hotel's guests (and to many other people staying in the area). It is not nearly as fancy as the hotel's "Diablo Room," which serves primarily suppers, but it does have a malted to die for.
Still a bit sore, after breakfast, I went to rest and read in the hotel's main reading room, overlooking the forest and town of Camp Angeles. I did not stay there too long, but I must admit, the old leather chairs are amazingly comfortable - perhaps to make up for the beds.
Around 11.00 or so, I once again left to hike the local trails. I wanted to head towards the western edge of town, which overlooks the very upper reaches of Tujunga Cañon, so I followed the rails until they began to curve southwards on their loop of the Camp, then continued westwards along one of the many trails. I was actually somewhat disappointed by the view of Tujunga, perhaps because I had already seen the finer one of Diablo, but it is still pretty.
I spent the rest of the day walking about
the town, visiting the small shops that cater almost exclusively to the tourist-trade, and generally having a good time. It was quite late by the time I returned to the hotel and I barely had time to wash before going back down to supper.
Afterwards, there was a performance by the "Buena Vista Opera Company" at the town's "Diablo Auditorium" (which surprisingly seats nearly two-hundred), so I dressed for that and caught the hotel stage to the Auditorium.
(Note: obviously, I took this picture the next day)
The Auditorium is only twenty years old and has rather impressive acoustics for a building whose decor is "cabin modern." The Buena Vista troop, I am sad to say, were not nearly as impressive. I left only half-way through the performance and returned to my hotel room, where I attempted to put the somewhat painful memory of their singing out of my mind with another hot shower and a good long read. I was only partially successful. Avoid them, if you can.
The next day I awoke to my final breakfast
of the trip, my final walk around of the trip, and my final pictures of the trip. I strolled over to Point Diablo, admiring some of the mansion-like "cabins" along the way, then strolled back.
Lunch was the Alpine Hotel - and if you do nothing else in Camp Angeles, try the Diablo Steak! Soon, though, I heard the long hoot of the S&J as it rolled into town and I headed down to the station.
Once again aboard (this time, the 7068 - I was going to visit Gina in Palos Verdes when I got back down the hill), I was rolling through the mountains, heading back towards civilization - which was not all that far away.
By mid-afternoon we crested Mt. Fig and pulled back into Rimtop Junction. Back down the mountain, we descended, the fields and orchards of Pasqual and Sierra Madre below us. Almost too soon, we passed back through El Portal and returned to once more being just an ordinary car, traveling ordinary tracks, heading for ordinary destinations.
Another Trip had ended...
|1.||Highland's Junction||11.||Burke's Tunnel|
|2.||El Portal||12.||Rimtop Junction|
|3.||Rubio||13.||MOUNT FIGUEROA HOTEL|
|4.||Lookout Point||14.||Figueroa Slide|
|5.||Cañon Curve||15.||French Curve Bridge|
|6.||"The Hairpin" - Start||16.||Santa Anita Station|
|7.||"The Hairpin" - End||17.||CAMP SAN GABRIEL|
|8.||Lookback Station||18.||Shortcut Ridge|
|9.||Crystal Springs||19.||Diablo Overlook|
|10.||"The Straightaway"||20||CAMP ANGELES|