Colleen Bennett - Sotheby's International Realty

SUNDAY DRIVE: A Shared Appreciation of Nature

March 24, 2013
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Sturtevant Falls

Sturtevant Falls

It was as if everyone in the San Gabriel Valley had received the same memo: Spring has sprung, so hit the road and enjoy the great outdoors.

And we did on Saturday (March 23, 2013) After packing a picnic lunch, my wife Colleen, my three sons Brett, Roger and Ryan, Ryan’s fiancé, Shannon, and I set out to conquer Sturtevant Falls, a three-mile round trip, which begins at Chantry Flats north of Arcadia, Calif.

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After exiting Santa Anita Avenue off the 210 freeway, we headed north until entering the U.S. National Forest . We wound our way up the mountain, not quite prepared for the steep climb or where the road would finally deposit it us. Each of us was glad to see the guardrails at every tight curve and hairpin turn as we glanced nervously at the looming Los Angeles basin below.

Half way up the mountain, we saw a sign that injected us with more fear than if we had been staring down a mountain lion. “Chantry Flats parking lot full.” It was at that moment when we all thought, “To hell with this, let’s head somewhere else.”

Making matters worse, about a mile before reaching Chantry, we saw cars, trucks and motor bikes shoehorned into every crevice and pullout alongside the road, about half illegally, their wheels nosing over the restrictive white lines. Others were wedged into clearly marked “No Parking” spaces.

At Chantry, we idled in a long parade of cars, joining a frustrated horde of drivers hoping for that one coveted parking spot that would eventually open up. It was wishful thinking. Roger and I dropped our party at Chantry before heading back down the hill in search of a parking place. We followed a long chain of cars curbed against the mountainside until we finally angled into a pullout precisely one mile from where we had dropped the others. Indeed, we were the last vehicle in that endless chain.

To our credit, Roger and I and Tank, Roger’s boxer, bounded out of his Chevy Silverado to quickly make up the ground we had lost. Tank led the way, happy to be out of the truck and eager to start his adventure.

The trailhead was busier than Union Station on a five o’clock Friday. Streams of humanity – parents with strollers, caregivers pushing wheelchairs, youngsters, oldsters, hipsters, wanderers, weekend warriors sans shirts, and people of every conceivable race, color and creed making up the great L.A. melting pot – funneled down that first steep stretch of paved road that finally gave way to dirt.

The Gabrielino trail led us through thick chaparral and lush riparian scenery and past a series of rustic cabins. Who were these souls fortunate enough to live under God’s canopy?

Finally, we found the falls, surrounded by that same beachhead of humanity that had accompanied our foray into the forest. Despite the throng, we were all there for the right reasons: to enjoy and be dazzled by 50 feet of cascading snow-melt.

A few adventurers took the polar plunge, emerging from the frigid waters with giggles and goose bumps.
After a half-hour of taking in the scene and picnicking on turkey bacon avocado sandwiches, pistachios, oranges, string cheese and nutrition bars, we started heading back.

On our return, we again saw more people than squirrels, lizards or red ants, but we were okay with sharing our outdoor experience with our fellow sojourners.

I know, for one, that should I ever feel as if I’m alone in the universe, I won’t have look to the stars in the heavens to quiet that sense of isolation. I will only need to join the trail leading to Sturtevant Falls, where my kinsmen will be waiting in greater numbers than I could have ever imagined.

Final add: There are almost as many dogs (most on leashes) as there are people along the trail, so you might want to bring along Old Sport with you. Also, to park up here, you’ll need an adventure pass for the day. I picked mine up for $5 at Big 5 Sporting Goods. If you’re ticketed for not having one, you could be out $100.  For more information, call (818) 899-1900, ext. 221. Although there is a store and restaurant at Chantry, it’s always a good idea to pack in your own water … because you never know.

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