Oak Springs Trail: Nature Can Do Better

The other day I went on a hike to one of the sources of the LA river as part of my quest to photograph as much of the toilet bowl as I can.

Oak Springs Trail. A couple of miles outside Pacoima, in Little Tujunga Canyon. On the Northern end of the San Fernando Valley, in Angeles National Forest.

The area looked like a Western, probably because many a Western was shot in the area. Kinda amusing, because the real mountains of Arizona, Colorado, Montana are much more interesting.

The trail began promising enough. There wasn’t another car in the parking lot. Big sycamores lined a shady creek. We headed pass a picnic bench that looked like a pleasant enough spot to eat a sandwich or to tie a shoe, which I did, I tied my Sauconys. The path was wide but covered with leaves which I took as a sign that this trail isn’t tread by many hikers.


We hadn’t gone a hundred yards when the trail came to an abrupt end against a cliff, a light blue fender lay on the ground, rusted and forgotten.


My buddy and I looked at each other, realized that we weren’t on a trail, or at least, not the trail we were supposed to be on, and retraced our steps through the parking lot, found where we were supposed to be, and headed off again.

Immediately our walk left the shady canyon and ceased being a ‘walk’, and could now safely be called a climb, as we proceeded pretty much vertically up the mountain.

Let’s just say it was steep and leave it at that. You wouldn’t want to be caught leaning back too much, or over the ledge for that matter, as the cliff dropped quickly from the trail through some thorny brush you wouldn’t want to take a tumble in. One of those trails where eventually you begin pushing off of your knee for leverage and because you’re lazy and out of shape. (personally speaking)

And it was hot, dusty and hot.

We thought we were getting an early start, but by the time we stopped for water and trail mix, and Louisiana Fried Chicken, (don’t ask) we hit the trail around 1:15. The sun was directly over our heads and blazing with fury, anytime I looked up at it I thought: this is what it must feel like to be a french fry.

After climbing two ridges and bitching and moaning about it, but admitting to getting a kick out of it anyway and to be appreciating the excercise (which was true), we came across a slight platue and between two hills we could gaze in wonder at the San Fernando Valley from 2000 feet above it.


You really couldn’t see anything because of the smog. I didn’t even take a picture. I went looking for it just now and remembered, ‘oh yeah, the vista was depressing, and infuriating.’ After that strenuous climb we were rewarded with miles and miles of brown sky and a blurry city hiding underneath it.

Shortly after that disappointment, however, we crested a hill and the trail sloped into a nice quiet meadow, up ahead was a thicket of green trees and the sound of running water. We had made it.

It isn’t much, but this is Oak Springs, one of the sources for the Porciuncula.

It was nice and shady and there were a few sizable boulders to sit on, at least for a few seconds until the ants began to swarm. There was a fire ring from where someone had set up camp at some point, a shotgun shell on top of the charred logs.

The creek was quiet and idyllic, but not too engaging. I studied the face someone carved into a tree trunk while my buddy entertained himself by taking pictures of the bugs in the water. When I got home I discovered about a dozen of them.

This is one of the better ones.

We had only hiked about a mile and a half, and even though we grumbled about the heat, we weren’t yet ready to give up on the trail, so we continued onward.

The trail swichbacked through more thirsty chaparral and came upon more underwhelming outlooks, with even vaster views of the smog and the ants sputtering around down there in it. The city of Tujunga was right beneath us, crawling up the mountainside with tract homes and wandering cement.

The trail eventually connected with a road that led higher up but we had had enough of this mountain. We spent a few minutes scratching our heads and contemplating the route back; whether we should follow the road down instead of the trail so as to complete a loop.

The problem was we weren’t sure where the road led and the image of us winding up in Tujunga and needing to catch a taxi back to our car compelled us to suck it up and go back the way we came.

Passing a darling flower along the way. Ah, how sweet!

I hate to sound judgmental but this hike was one of the worst I’ve done in awhile. It’s really a charmless mound of dirt with scrubby vegetation intent on sticking sharp twigs in your sock, a dribble of water masquerading as a creek your reward for sizzling under the sun.

There wasn’t any shade to speak of. The trail wasn’t well-maintained. It’s not far away enough to escape the smog. Or the liter.

There’s a reason Angeles Crest Highway, which is just north of where I was, is known more for the bodies they find dumped there than the wilderness.

Still, it’s nice to see it, because it’s there, and it’s home.


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