Sunday, July 12, 2009

Bridge to Nowhere

Last Wednesday Andrew and I traveled up into the San Gabriel Mountains north of Azusa to search for the Bridge to Nowhere (34.29242, -117.74317).

So here's the backstory (Wikipedia with the assist!): in the late 1930s the East Fork Road, meant to connect Azusa and Wrightwood, snaked its way above the East Fork of the San Gabriel river. Naturally, as these things tend to do, the road had to cross the river. A magnificent and beautifully powerful arch bridge was built in 1936 to span the river. The bridge was only two years old when a tremendous flood in March of 1938 washed out much of the road, forcing the cancellation of the project. The bridge was left and now has become an attraction for many hikers in Southern California.

The prospect of an abandoned bridge built in 1936 sold Andrew and I on this hike. The trail (some of which had itself been washed out) crossed the East Fork several times and led us through various terrain types. One moment we were tiptoeing across an almost shear face using not much more than footholds and the next moment we were trekking through a Yucca-infested river valley.

In fact, we ran into (sometimes literally) so much Yucca *shudder* that the very mention of its name sends shivers down my spine. I am certain that the purpose of these dastardly plants is nothing more than present a very prickly hazard to intrepid hikers - and I certainly had my share of pokes.


Well, we eventually made it to the bridge. Having no traffic other than day hikers and the occasional bungee jumper (the bridge is owned now by Bungee America, Inc.), it was in pristine condition and looked probably as good as it did in 1936. The construction was gorgeous - very reminiscent of the strong architecture found in the buildings of early Los Angeles.

We crossed the bridge and surveyed the other side. There were some natural pools in the river just before the bridge so we decided to climb down and investigate further. After taking a breather, we entered the river and headed over to one of the pools. The water was absolutely frigid but it was so very refreshing after miles of hiking in the harsh desert sun. As I was standing in the pool I had the unsettling pleasure of feeling small fish nibble at my ankles. Of course, I had no idea there were fish in the pool when I first got in so these little guys freaked me out.

Having satisfied our desire to swim in a natural river-fed pool, we decided it was time to hit the ol' dusty trail; only this time, we wouldn't take the ol' dusty trail. Not content to simply take the same way back, Andrew and I thought it would be much more adventurous to follow the river out. See, at this point the tranquil river valley had transformed into a carved gorge - complete with 5-foot waterfalls and small rapids. The trail had moved from following the riverside to coinciding with the road built in the 1930s perched safely high above the canyon below.

The passage was rough and I'm sorry to say that I have no pictures of this part of the trip because I was more concerned with keeping my gear dry. In fact, I had one test when the water had gotten too deep to wear my backpack conventionally. I was holding my stuff above my head when I slipped on an algae-covered rock and started tumbling toward the water. My only reaction was to shoot my arm into the air as high as I could to prevent my gear from entering the East Fork of the San Gabriel River. Luckily, the only thing left untouched by the water was my backpack and its precious contents.

We passed the hard part of the river and made it back to the valley. After that it was a series of river crossings and yucca dodging. The hike was great. I didn't find it as strenuous as the previous two but I do have a piece of advice: do not forget water shoes!

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