48-3 Monrovia Canyon Park to Sawpit Canyon, Deer Park

Participants: Tom Chester and Jane Strong
Date: 3 December 1999 (Written up 4 December 1999)

Warning: the Ben Overturff Trail and Sawpit Canyon Fire Road are closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. See Monrovia Canyon Park.

Description: This hike begins and ends at Monrovia Canyon Park, taking the Sawpit Canyon Fire Road to Overturff Junction, the Ben Overturff Trail to the Old Cabin Site, and then back via the Fire Road. For general trail information about this hike, consult those webpages. This description contains only items specific to the hike on this day.

We parked in the lower parking lot and took the mini-trail to the beginning of the Sawpit Canyon Fire Road. The gate was open, probably due to the work being done on the Dam. We studied the trail map for a while, and marveled at the amount of water in Sawpit Canyon. We thought the amount of water may have been due to releases from Sawpit Dam, but we learned later that the water comes from the springs farther upstream.

Indeed, water was found in every perennial stream indicated on the topo map. We were surprised by this abundance of water since rainfall had been sparse this past winter and much less than one inch has fallen this season in the mountains.

We spent some time looking at the impressive 150' dam face and the work being done on it. There was no retained water behind it at all. An exceptionally long ladder was leaning against the side of the spillway to the top of the Dam, and from our distance there appeared to be no ropes preventing the ladder from moving. It must be a scary thing to climb that ladder!

The Sawpit Fire Road gives good views of Sawpit Canyon and Maple Canyon, and we had no trouble picking up the maples in full color. We looked largely in vain to see sycamores in Sycamore Canyon. Jane thinks she spotted one eventually.

We saw many small birds like White-crowned Sparrows and Yellow-rumped Warblers, and heard many Wrentits, Rufous-sided Towhees, and Scrub Jays. Tom saw one bushy-tailed squirrel and Jane saw a large doe. There were no lizards, but signs of coyote and of many more deer.

The hike changed character dramatically when we took the Overturff Trail. The views became restricted to the immediate canyon, and we were in the trees. Once we passed through The Gap, all views went away, and although it was midday with no cloud cover, it felt like sunset. The sun was low on the horizon to the south, being near winter solstice, and filtered by large numbers of trees.

The low light in the groves of bay trees enhanced the yellow, rose, and scarlet colors of the poison oak which grew so rampantly that when the breezes came, we were showered with poison oak leaves from above!

We were just stunned to see the Natural Bridge. Neither of us had seen anything like this in the San Gabriels. We spent some time exploring it, and trying to figure out if humans had anything to do with it other than to put the pipe at the bottom to collect the water from the spring.

After taking our time on the way to the Cabin Site, we had to hustle on the way out in order to avoid being locked in at 5 p.m. As we got close to Sawpit Dam, the view towards the towers of Los Angeles was framed by the canyon walls and backed by the setting sun making a very pretty, well-composed picture.

A few mountain bikers passed us on our return coming out for their evening ride. Otherwise, we met no one on this very peaceful walk.

We reached the Park Road at 4:28, and wanted to see the Nature Center before it closed at 5:00 p.m. However, when we got there at 4:36, we learned just how serious they are about locking that gate then. Tom went in the door, exclaimed how pleased he was that the Nature Center was still open, and was immediately pushed out the door, with the admonition that they were locking the gate "in 10 minutes". It was revised to "15 minutes" after Tom pointed out that it wasn't anywhere that close to 5 p.m.

Trail Condition: Excellent.

Plants in bloom: The bigleaf maples in the canyons have gorgeous, blazing color with most of the leaves still on. Rather amazing, since all over the rest of the San Gabriels, these trees are naked! A few crimson leaves remain on the masses of poison oak, but here we were able to observe, but restrained ourselves from touching, the little pearl-like white berries which are usually missing from the stems. California fuchsia and cliff-aster still bloom. The orange bush monkeyflower really looked orange, but from the color of the leaves, not the flowers! The rock-growing ferns are all curled up like a fist, from dryness, just waiting for the first real rain, while the sword ferns on the ground are drooping. Toyon berries are reddening and will get redder; there are more bushes here than we've seen elsewhere in the Front Range. Many of the California bay trees have a substantial amount of brown leaves. "Seasonal or diseased?", we wondered.

To our delight, we came across a flowing stream with fresh, young watercress plants, and scarlet and musk monkeyflower in bloom. Musk flower is a smaller version of the yellow monkeyflower that is cold and wet to the touch. In another stream, next to Deer Park, we saw magnificent large and healthy woodwardia ferns.

Young blades of grasses were poking up through the dried ones of summer and mustard has new green leaves and some flowers, albeit quite small.

Weather and water consumption: Weather was about 70° at the start of the hike, cooling quickly to 59° at Deer Park Junction at 2:45 p.m. It was too warm in the sun for Jane and too cool in the shade for Tom, otherwise just right!

Bugs: There were a very few mosquitoes in the perennially wet spots, especially at the natural bridge, and some small gnats that wanted to share our lunch with us at the Old Cabin Site. These gnats weren't black flies, but look more like flying ticks to Tom. Otherwise, no bugs troubled us.

Number of ticks: Zero.

Number of rattlesnakes: Zero.

Other pests: None.

Explanation of columns for all trip logs

This table contains the raw pedometer readings. The altitudes here are the correct altitudes from the topo map at most intersections, supplemented by altimeter readings that have been adjusted by an offset to remove the bias.

#MileageTime arrivedTime leftAltitudeComments
00.0010:55 1100Lower Parking Lot. Took trail.
10.1011:00 1100Jct. Waterfall Bypass Trail. Right.
20.2511:0711:141140Canyon Park Jct of the beginning of Sawpit Canyon Fire Road (2N30). Right. Sign with trail map. Sign: "1 1/4 miles to Overturff Jct., 3 1/4 to Deer Park Cabin site, 2 1/2 to Twin Springs Jct."
30.3011:17 1150Jct. gated dirt road on left. Stay right.
40.6711:30 1350Sign: Camp Trask Scout Reservation on left. Stay right.
50.9011:40 1460Seasonal waterfall behind water tank.
61.2011:51 1600Trask entrance on left. Stay right.
71.4512:04 1680Overturff Jct., Jct. Ben Overturff Trail. Left. Locked gate on fire road on right. Sign: "2 miles to Old Cabin site, 1 1/4 mile to Canyon Park, 1 1/2 to Twin Springs Jct., 3 1/2 to White Saddle."
81.6212:14 1680Checkdam, then trail crosses stream.
91.7512:21 1700Second switchback on Razorback.
101.8012:25 1750A quasi-saddle on the ridge.
112.0012:33 1975The Razorback, a narrow part on the ridgetop.
122.481:00 2350The Gap.
132.801:17 2400"Natural Bridge" over water tunnel after some ups and downs on trail.
143.001:30 2300=13 after exploring spring. Jct to Sawpit Fire Road just below. Left to cabin.
153.501:57 2650Another Jct to Sawpit Fire Road. Left to cabin.
163.552:00 2650Deer Park sign and ruin of something.
173.612:03 2750Cabin site. Lunch.
183.70 2:332700Left Cabin site.
193.822:39 2650=15. Left.
204.002:45 2560"Deer Park Jct", with handicapped access bathroom. Right on Sawpit Canyon Fire Road. 59°. (I failed to record mileages from sign.)
214.483:06 2360"Twin Springs Jct" to Overturff Trail. Continue on road. Sign: "1/2 mile to Cabin site, 1 1/2 mile to Overturff Jct., 2 3/4 mile to Canyon Park Trailhead, 2 mile to White Saddle".
224.703:13 2250Monrovia Police Firing Range. Lots of Spanish broom here!
236.023:55 1680Overtuff Jct. =7
246.264:02 1650Trask Entrance. =6.
257.204:28 1140Canyon Park Jct. = 2. Right to Visitor Center.
267.584:364:401350Visitor Center.
278.004:50 1100Car at Lower Parking Lot.

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Copyright © 1999-2000 by Tom Chester and Jane Strong.
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Updated 14 November 2000.