Child Hoods End
Enter the Forest
Roots of Halloween
THE FOREST: A Guidebook to the Angeles National Forest,
was published in 1998 by Survival News Service
in co-operation with Big Santa Anita Historical Society.
pages, with photos and drawings.
Intended as a companion to John Robinson's Trails of the Angeles, the front and
rear covers have photos by Roy Murphy, the "Ansel Adams of the Angeles National
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. Exploring Earthquake Faults
2. How the Mountains were formed
B. Animals of the Forest
1. Mountain Lions in the Forest
2. Bears in our Hills
3. Living with Coyotes
4. The Beauty of Deer
5. Fly fishing
A. Weather Conditions
1. Is it going to rain?
2. Weather Lore
B. Living with the Heat
C. Navigation through the Forest (10 sections)
A. Water Everywhere, but is it pure?
B. Finding Water
C. Rainy Day Experience
A. Learning to Live with Fire
B. How to Build a Fire
D. Making Fire in the Rain
A. Lessons from the "Gabrielino" Indians
B. Wild Food Plants
A. Be Prepared with Basic Gear
B. Trail Food
D. Safety and First Aid Considerations
E. A Piece of Fibre Could Save Your LIfe
F. When do you decide you're Lost?
G. An Igloo in the Forest?
A. Why go to the mountains?
A Journey to the Land of Dreams & Indian Lore
You can spend the rest of your life learning new facets of the natural history,
and flora and fauna that exist in the Angeles National Forest, and you'd still
never learn everything. The Angeles National Forest is a classroom where you
can graduate from grade to grade, and continue your training and learning to
the post-graduate level. But there is always more to learn, more to discover.
There is the unique botany, the animals and their habits, the dynamics of geology,
the weather, the human history, the adventures, the challenges, and much more.
Immerse yourself in the forest like a child with open eyes, and a child-like
mind of query and adventure. Here, then, to begin our journey, is the account
of one such adventure.
It was late January when our party of three dug through a pile of river driftwood
looking for pieces of wood to use as tools. We made our own fire-starters,
chop sticks, and weapons. We then constructed a small shelter that we could
sleep in warmly if we had to spend the night without a sleeping bag.
We were out for a day of discovering how nature can supply our needs, based
on the skills of the Native Americans who once occupied the San Gabriel Mountains
and the San Garbriel Valley. We hiked along the alder-lined stream of a narrow
canyon of the Angeles National Forest.
Finding our food was easy -- we filled bags with chickweed for salad, cactus
and watercress for vegetable dishes, and several wild seeds to increase the
protein content of our collected foods.
Peter, an American artist from Brooklyn, marveled at the colors and hues and
simple beauty of this canyon. As we made soap with frayed yucca leaves, he
remarked that he'd never have to go unwashed in the wild again. Then we took
our yucca fibres and braided strong rope. Jim, a computer technician from Anaheim,
was amazed that within a few minutes we could fabricate a cord suitable for
use in rock climbing.
Our journey took us up onto ridgelines high above the canyon where the view
was stunning. Everyone keenly observed the subtleties of our surroundings as
we examined animal runs, matted-down grass, clawed and chewed branches, tracks,
and animal droppings. Like scientists, we examined every clue and realized
that this was an active landscape when we were gone at night. After a while
of observing, we knew who lived here, where they travelled, and what they ate.
After "reading" the terrain, Peter lamented how we have allowed our
senses to become dulled in the city. He kept telling us how much we have lost
as a modern species, and how far removed we have become from the basics of
We walked back to a campsite, ready to make fire and cook our meal. As we walked,
our eyes were open and looking for "potentials." Instead of trash
along the trail, we saw tinder where others saw only dried leaves. Instead
of old dead agave stalks, we saw carrying cases, water filters, and drums.
Dry stalks on vines were potential baskets. A discarded can was a cooking pot.
Random rocks were primitive tools whose very touch reinvoked the ancient and
primitive faculties within each of us.
Now we were ready to cook, but we carried no matches. Our fire pit was next
to a large group of Boy Scouts who had pitched camp for the night. They began
to gather around and watch our doings. I implored them to move in closer, to
watch, to learn. I twisted the bowstring of my alder bow around a willow drill.
I kept the drill vertical with a small burl at the top, placed the drill onto
a flat piece of cedar wood, and began to stroke, and stroke, and stroke. I
reminded everyone that I had practiced this technique hundreds of times before
first succeeding in 1978. Smoke began to rise from the little notch on the
edge of the cedar wood. After five minutes of stroking and smoking, I had a
small red ember which I carefully placed into a nest of dried mugwort leaves.
I reminded everyone that the first time I made fire this way took me three
By now, we had the Scouts' undivided attention, none of whom had ever made
fire with a bow and drill. Peter gave me a larger nest made of pine needles,
and I placed my smoking mugwort nest into the pine, and continued blowing as
the embers spread. It must have appeared as if I was paying homage to the god
of fire as I knelt there, both arms outstretched as I blew into a smouldering
nest. Smoke was everywhere. Suddenly flames burst forth, and I placed the burning
bundle of pine needles into the firepit and began to cook. Yes, we had fire,
but we had no matches.
While Jim and Peter made fire with flint and steel, and the bow and drill,
the Boy Scouts watched with great interest. I removed condiments from Ramah's
(our female pit bull) pack, and I made chickweed salad. I sauteed the watercress
and added potato flour, and we soon had a delicous vegetable dish. Several
of the Boy Scouts tried some of our lunch, but one stood back saying he preferred "real" food.
I remarked that "real" food doesn't come in plastic or aluminum foil
pouches. THIS was real food. This freshly gathered food has sustained more
people throughout history than the embalmed, purified, homogenized, and celophaned
substances we today refer to as "food."
I was a bit surprised that few of the Scouts had any knowledge of what we were
doing. I told them that if we were all living in an aboriginal culture, we'd
have mastered all these skills by age 10. So we figured 30 years late is better
We were baking biscuits in the hot coals and cleaning up when a hiker stopped
by to talk and see what we were doing. He sat down to chat, and I asked him
about his impressive pouch. It had been made from one racoon skin, carefully
cleaned and sewn up. I inquired if he could tell us -- the Scouts too -- how
he made the pouch. The man tilted his black Apache hat back on his head, and
began his narrative of how he had carefully cleaned the animal and used the
brains to tan the hide. He said that he'd seen pictures of such pouches in
books about the Plains Indians, and he'd always wanted to make one. The man
asked the Scouts to come forward and feel the skin of the pouch. It was soft,
not hard, as a result of careful tanning. But some Scouts retreated back to
the safety of their tents and kerosene lanterns when he began to talk about
the cleaning and tanning. This simply wasn't the stuff of their weekly scout
hikes and meetings.
After awhile, our racoon-pouched hiker departed, and I passed out licorice
roots for everyone to use as a wild toothbrush. It was dark now as we began
to clean up and pack up. A few Scouts stood around watching us, and so I boldly
proclaimed that if I ever had a Scout troop, they'd all be able to go into
the woods and survive a blizzard, find all their own food, spend a comfortable
night without a sleeping bag, and make fire without matches. And I knew I would
get their attention with this -- I told them that no member of my troop would
ever be fearful of earthquakes because I'd teach them how to apply all these
lessons in the city. An older boy scoffingly challenged, "But you don't
have a troop, do you?" After a moment's thought, I said, "Of course
I do. This is my Anaheim branch," pointing to Jim, "and here is my
Brooklyn branch," pointing to Peter, "and here is my San Gabriel
mountain branch," as I pointed to the local Ranger. "And I'm the
branch from the City of the Angels!" They all nervously laughed, not sure
if I was serious.
As we walked out of the canyon in darkness to our cars, we looked at the hills,
the rocks, the trees, the plants, and all the signs of the animals. Everywhere
we looked we saw the unseen, the potential, the history of our ancestors. Everyone's
awareness had increased, and we were all viewing the once-familiar surroundings
as if for the first time. For me, it was a great day -- another learning adventure
in my "big backyard." To the others, it was just the beginning. They'd
been baptized in the wondrousness of the Angeles National Forest. Their eyes
had been opened, and this became a place of dreams, and the land where legends
are born. It was a place we'd all return to often.
A RAINY DAY EXPERIENCE
If you plan ahead and know what to expect, you can actually have an enjoyable
experience in the Angeles National Forest while it's raining. In fact, some
of my best adventures were during mild storms. Though this may not be for everyone,
just remember that hiking in the rain isn't necessarily miserable or painful.
It's definitely not dull, because the entire Forest becomes another place in
It was a chilly, overcast, and slightly windy day when three of us began our
adventure into the San Gabriel Mountains. We parked in a small dirt turnout
on the Angeles Crest Highway, and descended a steep trail into the upper arroyo.
Our motive: to explore the foods of the Indians who once lived here, and to
practice some of the old ways.
Sounds had that "hollow" quality that precedes storms. Birds were
perched. All of the signs foretold rain. I wasn't dressed for rain, but I looked
forward to the coming storm and the accompanying changes and unpredictables.
It was even colder when John, Sergio, and I reached the canyon floor. A runner
who was departing told us that he'd seen only three other hikers during his
entire run of four miles up and back. The canyon would be ours on this quiet
Soon we encountered a plant, lamb's quarters, that all American Indians included
in their diets once it naturalized in North America. This European native grew
abundantly just off the trails, and we meandered back and forth filling a bag
of the leaves and another bag of the ripe black seeds. This would provide us
with salad greens, cooked greens, and seeds to add to our biscuits and soup.
Exploring along the shallow rocks of the stream, we found enough chickweed
to create a wonderful "spring" salad, even though it was nearly winter
-- just a few days before the winter solstice of 1993. We filled another bag
with young prickly pear pads for a cooked vegetable.
We were certain that food was abundant, and so we began to explore some of
the other wonders of the canyon. We practiced making "soap" from
the green yucca leaves. We carefully tore a long leaf into thin strips, and
then -- after wetting our hands and the leaves in the river -- we agitated
the leaves between our hands. Presto! -- a thick lather of green suds appeared.
Sergio enjoyed making soap and washing his hands with yucca, and practiced
until he was certain he'd mastered this method. Then we experimented with various
methods of making twine and rope by braiding the thin yucca fibres together.
Within minutes, we had a three foot rope -- a genuine "soap on a rope" which
Sergio took home.
We noticed an old stairway going up the hillside in a side canyon -- a remnant
of the cabin system in this canyon before the fires and floods of the '30s
washed them all out. We hiked up the 50 or so steps to the site of an old homestead
with only the footer and fireplace still standing. More interestingly, we could
tell that this higher site had been a deer bedding area. It wasn't a fresh
deer site, but the way the dead grass was matted told us that the animals came
Further up the canyon, we sighted another old cabin site, and this one was
even higher up a ridge. The view from that homestead would have been stunning,
for it was situated on the top of a steep cliff where the river made almost
a 90 degree bend. The view to the north and northwest was remarkable. As we
examined the old site, we saw no evidence that anyone had been there for years
-- not people, anyway. This appeared to be an even larger deer bedding area,
with obvious sleeping hollows and numerous well-defined animal trails in the
dead grass. This site was fresher, and after we searched around, we found at
least one set of fresh prints that had been made in the last day or two. It
appeared that a deer had come bounding down the poison oak-covered ridge into
the old cabin site, and then bounded off through the thick brush.
We walked around the area and we could see the path through the thick poison
oak where the deer had come. In the trail itself, we found coyote droppings.
The coyote, no doubt, would have hunted the deer. As we inspected the area,
we also made a surprising find -- the upper skull of a gray fox. We identified
it by its size, its dental features, and its general shape. Sergio was very
excited, and continued to search the area, thinking he'd find another skull.
As we walked down the ridgeline, our eyes began to look at our surroundings
much the way the animals do. We spotted numerous dens and hollows, some apparently
fresh (by the smell of feces) and others either unused or abandoned. We were
quiet as two bicyclists sped by, no doubt engaged in their own private world
of making time, and beating the storm, and competition. We were so close, yet
our world was completely different than that of the cyclists.
By now, the chilly, slight drizzles had turned into a steady though light rain.
We decided it was time for lunch. We found an old fire pit which provided some
natural protection from the rain, and we proceeded to build our fire. For tinder,
we used a fragment of an old cotton kerchief that Sergio spotted at one of
the old cabin sites. It had a floral pattern that I hadn't seen for years,
and, with the help of a magnesium fire starter, we had our initial flame going
in a matter of minutes. But everything was wet, so we had to build up a bed
of coals before we could cook. We fed the fire with bark and needles and leaves
and little twigs, and soon we had a good blaze going.
John's hands had become quite cold and he found it difficult to practice with
his firestarter. In fact, John said that his hands were so cold that they were
almost numb. Although I always look at how much more I have to learn, I became
aware that I've grown much more able to deal with the cold over the years.
I was still at a "very comfortable" level and hadn't even reached "uncomfortable," let
alone "painful." So I put a few more logs onto the fire for John,
and began to prepare our lunch.
By now, the rain had increased to a steady and moderate shower, and the wind
picked up. It was getting harder to talk without yelling. I peeled the cactus
pads, diced them, and placed them on the fire to cook. I mixed in some potato
powder, and created a delicious dish. We all enjoyed it, and John declared
it "excellent." Sergio even asked for seconds. We began to warm our
water for sage tea, and I began to pack up. The rain had quickly increased
to a downpour, and the only reason we weren't thoroughly soaked was because
we stood so close to the fire. Drinking warm aromatic tea by the fire, while
the rain danced around us, was a delightful experience. It felt good to be
outside, and though we were wet, I enjoyed feeling the rain, the cold, and
Soon, we were back on the trail, heading back to our car. I knew we were in
no danger from the cold -- we had the tools and the experience to deal with
any storm, so I relaxed and attempted to enjoy the chilling storm. Sergio,
on the other hand, couldn't wait to get back to the shelter of a car, even
if it would be a cold car with no heater.
I had actually considered taking off my clothes during the walk back to the
car. It might seem outlandish, but it can be much more comfortable with no
clothes rather than cold and wet, heavy garments. It might take a bit of getting
used to, but everyone ought to try it at least once.
By the time we were nearly back to the top of the canyon, we saw rivers of
mud pouring down the gulleys and waterways. Just a few hours earlier these
gulleys were dry! Had we been planning to spend the night, we would have needed
to collect all our water before the storm got worse or else we'd only have
mud to drink all weekend.
But we were headed out up the trail. Finally we reached the metal pillbox of
a vehicle. Only one other vehicle remained in the parking area. Everyone else
had quickly retreated back to the city when the rains came. Sergio and John
were a bit too cold for comfort. They gradually warmed up as the car heater
that they thought was broken began to work. They told me they had enjoyed a
great adventure, and that the rain had made it even more interesting. They
both looked forward to another similar exploration