In the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, it is a legend among hikers. A fairy tale....the beautiful princess (waterfall) that is hidden from view by the evil stepfather (rock quarry company) and the endurance trial that knights (hikers) have to take in order to catch a glimpse of the princess (waterfall).
Well, the fairy godmother (public opinion) of the princess(waterfall) has cast a spell of positive public relations upon the evil stepfather (rock quarry company) which has opened the castle doors (rock quarry company gate) to knights (hikers) seeking the princess (waterfall).
This is not a new story. For Los Angeles hikers in the early 20th Century, Fish Canyon was a pleasant hike to a gorgeous 80 foot waterfall, spilling into a swimming hole. There were cabins in the canyon and it was a popular vacation spot. Fast forward to 1956, before I was even born, when the Azusa Rock Company began quarry operations in the mouth of Fish Canyon, fencing off the canyon mouth and stationing guards to turn hikers away from Fish Canyon Trail. After more than three decades of hikers' protests and sneak hikes to the falls, the company constructed a bypass trail in 1988. However, this trail was reportedly dangerous, traversing unstable slopes. In more recent years, the city of Duarte and the Los Angeles Conservation Corps completed a new trail, a three-mile bypass of the quarry. However, this one, while not as dangerous, is still steep and very strenuous. John McKinney describes it in his 2003 hiking guide, Wild L.A., The Day Hiker's Guide, as "What was an easy family hike is now a strenuous outing best left to experienced hikers and those training for a trek in Nepal."
In the last couple of years, Vulcan, the company who now operates the quarry has been trying to build goodwill in the community by having "Open Saturdays" in the month of May, a month where the water is full and the weather is generally good. What this means to the hiker is that instead of parking at the new Fish Canyon Trail trailhead and hiking the three mile bypass endurance feat trail, he/she can drive right into the Vulcan parking lot, sign a waiver that says the company isn't liable for hiking injuries in the form of a sign-in/sign-out sheet, and the company provides a van to drive him/her to the trailhead of the old, original trail. This means that families and small children can hike to this gorgeous, gorgeous waterfall, swim in the pool it falls into, and have a wonderful wilderness experience in the backyard of a major metropolitan area.
Today, I hiked this shorter trail with a Sierra Club group. It was wonderful and I can't say enough good things about it. First, the waterfall has four cascades and falls stairstep style down the rock face. It almost physically impossible to capture this on a normal camera unless you have a very wide angle lense.
Here is a photo of the top three cascades where it falls into the swimming hole:
Here is a photo of the bottom cascade where it falls out of the above mentioned pool (swimming hole) into a second pool. This second pool is not as easily accessible as far as trying to swim in it. To get a sense of size, look at the people in the distance (not the hiker coming up the trail near where I am taking the photo). The pool shown in the first photo is hidden by vegetation. If you look closely, there's a blurry little line which is actually part of the top cascade, so you actually can see all four in this photo:
Finally, here's a photo of me standing near the edge of the pool, which shows only a fraction of the third cascade (counting from the top):
Next Saturday is Vulcan's last "Open Saturday" in a while, so if you live in L.A. and have never seen this waterfall, next weekend would be a very good time to hike to it. From 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., hikers will be permitted to access the trail through the quarry. To get to the entrance, take the Mt Olive Drive exit off the 210 freeway in the city of Duarte. Go north to the first stoplight, Huntington Drive and turn right. Then, turn left on Encanto Parkway. Follow Encanto Parkway about a mile and a half until it dead-ends into the Vulcan Azusa Rock Quarry and park in the company parking lot.
Again, if you try to do this any other day other than next Saturday (5-20-06), you will have to park in the Fish Canyon Trail parking lot before the quarry and hike the killer bypass trail around it.