Writing about fishing on the East Fork of the San Gabriel River is something I’ve come to enjoy. I learned how to fly fish on this year-round trout fishery and some of my most memorable camping experiences have been on the East Fork, north of its peculiar Bridge to Nowhere, which as you might suspect from its name, goes nowhere.
But camping and fishing aren’t the only activities associated with this stream and part of the Angeles National Forest.
There’s another highly addictive and sometimes rewarding hobby that’s ardently pursued there—recreational golf prospecting.
Growing up in eastern Los Angeles County in the tiny town of Azusa, I was exposed to a lot of myths about gold on the East Fork and I may have been the most gullible baby boomer ever to shirk my way into a pack when it comes to stories of Gold in this stretch of the canyon.
Rumors however are often based in truth and the ground truth about Gold on the East Fork is very true. There’s gold in this stream which is only about 40 miles from the Los Angeles civic center and there’s been more than one strike in this section of the Angeles National Forest. In fact there have been two rushes on the East Fork since the mid-19th Century and the thing about gold is this: no one ever gets it all.
Don’t look to me to provide earth coordinates on East Fork gold deposits. The fun thing about looking for gold is the scientific part of the search.
Some background: one of the richest strikes on the East Fork was made at the Allison Mine—located on the west slope of Mt Baldy above the confluence of Iron Fork and the East Fork, upstream from the Bridge to Nowhere.
Hiking into the remains of the Allison is not for the faint of heart, (or anyone else at risk of sudden cardiac failure). It’s a long climb up the side of Mt Baldy through never ending piles of decomposed granite and shattered breccia. There are no water sources on this “trail” but there are a lot of rattle snakes that really don’t like to be disturbed. But it’s a fun hike if you want to see the San Gabriel wilderness at its best; big horn sheep roam freely here and where there are bighorn, you also stand a great chance of seeing their predators. A word of warning; mountain lions are not benign kitty cats and this is the only section of the East Fork where I’ve shared the trail with more than one cougar in one day.
Now back to East Fork gold. Much of the East Fork’s gold was found in granite or other native stone, so if you’re interested in hard rock prospecting, do take the time to crack open ore you find deposited in natural slides, and catch basins coming down to the East Fork from Allison Gulch. I also suspect that the fine gravel in this watershed holds gold—assuredly not placer nuggets, but rather flour or large particulate flakes. How do I know this?
It’s where I’ve found gold and it’s where San Gabriel gold miner and historian, Sedley Peck, told me he had found gold there too.
If you’re idea of succumbing to the Gold bug is to spend a couple of hours washing pans of pay dirt, the East Fork north of the Iron Fork Confluence is the place to try. Over the years I’ve pulled out a couple of nice two- and three-gram nuggets from this area and I’m very sure there’s still gold there and further down closer to the East Fork narrows. Camping high up on the East Fork is extremely pleasant. It’s unlikely you’d share a campground (at the Narrows or at Iron Fork) with anyone else and both stretches of water here have hold over populations of tasty native rainbow trout.
There’s another section of the East Fork I believe is auriferous—the stretch of water right at the base of Swan Rock (which is downstream from the Bridge to Nowhere).
The trek to Iron Fork may be one of the prettiest hikes in the San Gabriel Mountains. It’s an approximate nine-mile hike to Iron Fork and the first six miles requires multiple river crossings, so bring extra socks and sturdy tennis shoes. Always check in and out at the East Fork Ranger Station and let a friend know when you expect to return. A Forest Service Day use Pass is required and can be purchased at the information kiosk on highway 39 at the mouth of Azusa Canyon.—Jim Forbes 05/01/2010.