At Our Leisure: Hikers at Fish Canyon near Duarte, ca. 1920

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

The waterfall in Fish Canyon above Duarte and Bradbury and at the western side of the mouth of San Gabriel Canyon is a three-tier, eighty-foot fall that has been a popular attraction for regional hikers for many decades.

Today’s “At Our Leisure” post highlights a trio of ca. 1920s snapshots of hikers (during the so-called Great Hiking Era of the 1890s through 1930s) before taking the trail to the canyon and then a few of them at the falls.  The first image shows eighteen people posed in front of a truck parked near a wooden structure with a large expanse of dirt in the background and the San Gabriel Mountains in the distance.  The group is composed of eleven women and seven men and this appears to have been taken prior to the hike, given that clothes and boots and shoes appear to be clean.

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This snapshot from the Homestead’s collection shows eighteen persons posed before taking a hike to Fish Canyon above Duarte, ca. 1920s.  Note the clothing, a much different look than modern day hikers sport!

It is interesting to note the clothing, especially as some of the men wore ties and some of the women had neckwear and sports clothes that wouldn’t be thought of as those used for hiking today.  Then again, people dressed far more formally for most occasions–some of the more striking examples of this are photos of folks at sports events, especially with men wearing suits and ties to, say, a baseball game.  This is a far cry of a standard look of baseball jersey, shorts and baseball caps typically worn now.

The second image is on the trail as the last person in the group stopped to snap a view of fellow hikers moving along the path leading into the canyon.  The landscape is typical chaparral, with bushes and shrubs along the trail and clinging to the steep slopes.  Further along at the right looks to be the light colored trunk of a sycamore tree, undoubtedly to be found along the bank of a stream running from the falls and canyon down towards the San Gabriel River.

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Thus photo shows the hikers walking up the trail and into Fish Canyon through a chaparral-covered landscape.

The payoff of the hike is the spectacular falls and the second image shows five of the party posed by the lower part of the third tier and the pool into which the water empties.  On first glance it only appears that there is a trio of hikers sitting on rocks and standing near the pool, but a closer examination reveals another pair of intrepid climbers who scaled the granitic face of the mountainside just to the left of the cascade.

It’s a beautiful scene and, either the hikers went to enjoy the falls in late winter or early spring, which, given some of the clothing, seems pretty likely, or there was an excellent rainfall that year.  The flow of water seems healthy and the pool looks like it has a decent depth.

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The payoff to the trek is the spectacular falls and pool and this image shows five (note the two on the steep rocky slope to the left of the cascade) of the hikers enjoying the bucolic scene.

Over the years, however, the incessant growth of greater Los Angeles region led to an increase of the use of San Gabriel Canyon and the area just south of it for sand and gravel companies to extract material for the manufacture of cement and concrete.  This included Fish Canyon, where a quarry was developed on the old trail route shown in the photo above.

Hikers have been able to access the canyon and the falls by going through the privately owned quarry, now operated by Vulcan Materials Company, the nation’s largest provider of crushed stone, gravel and sand products.  In recent years, a new trail was created that avoided much of the quarry site, although it does, by necessity, go through the Vulcan site.

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Just for you is this bonus photo showing a slightly different take of the first image!

Unfortunately, the trail has been closed because of damage from a wildfire and there is no planned date for reopening it.  For those interested in accessing Fish Canyon when the trail is opened again, check this website.

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