Holiday dinners with my family was where I became interested in the physical sciences and the history of the San Gabriel Canon. I was fortunate to have a wildlands surveyor and a science teacher at many of oury Holiday dinner tables; neither of whom ever discouraged my overwhelming curiosity or need to understand how things came to pass.
It was my Dad’s brother, a teacher and my grandfather, Bill Sele, who helped to harness my curiosity.Both encouraged me to take advantage of the local library -- the result of a Carnegie Grant in my home town of Azusa, CA and to listen to “old timers’ ” stories and not be afraid to ask questions.
It was advice, I’ve never forgotten. As a result,I came to understand to look for signs of early civilization and industry in my immediate surroundings.
I never found the ruins of ancient cities, but by listening to experienced wild lands surveyors, I rapidly realized that in arid Southern California, native peoples and pioneers alike tended to settle on high ground adjacent to year-round water sources.
But, given the choice between hiking up hill to and from villages, most trails follow watercourses. I spent much of my free time as youth hiking and exploring Azusa Canyon and the upper tributaries of the San Gabriel River.Over the years, I saw a lot of proof that native American populations traveled the same canyon routes down from the high desert north of the Los Angeles basin.
My grandfather and my uncle Dick Sele spent much of their professional lives in the San Gabriel mountains surveying. A lot of what I know can be traced to what they told me over holiday dinners. One of the things My grandfather taught me was to look for Indian trail signs and marker cairns. But most of all; respect stone cairns.
And this is the reason why when I come across an ancient pile of rocks trailside, I sometimes add a small pebble to the stack
There is an old Silver mine on the north side of Azusa Canyon near Morris Dam that is one of my favorite hiking trails. If you follow the trail leading up the mountain from the old mine site, you may find three of those cairns and an old path that if you’re in very good shape, leads to Fish Canyon in Duarte.
It’s not a hike you want to make on a blistering 100 degree day, although there is an artesian water source about half way to Fish Canyon.
If your purpose in hiking Azusa Canyon is prospecting, it also pays to keep peer up at the canyon walls and look for ancient watercourses. it’s in the deep pockets of those that you can sometimes find placer gold or small nuggets.
One of the things I learned from my family and a legendary local Azusa Canyon historian, the late Sedly Peck, was to be very careful when excavating the pockets of old streams from underneath. My childhood buddy Chuck Woerner and I twice discovered the surprising power of gravity while digging up into a pocket of ancient gravel and river stones. although the only thing we hurt was our pride,rock falls can teach important lessons in safety and humility.
Hydraulic mining in the early and mid 20th century eliminated much of the visual traces of ancient river courses south of the East Fork Ranger Station, but if you’re interested you can still spot untouched gravel pockets high up on the East Fork beyond the Narrows and upstream from Iron Fork.
I’m almost 65 but my ardor to continue exploring the Azusa Canyon is almost as strong as it was all those Thanksgivings ago in Azusa, CA.--Jim Forbes on 11/24/2013.