Saturday, April 24, 2010

From the Squirrel Files: Fox Squirrels

Hi. How are ya?

I enjoy watching the squirrels in our yard. They chase each other up and down trees, jump from limb to limb and have a quirky manner about them that's just funny.

But, did you know these industrious little rodents are not native to California? From my Internet research, it looks like our squirrels are Fox Squirrels and were introduced here from the east.

Actually, studies trace the Fox Squirrel's migration to southern California to 1904. Civil War veterans living at the Sawtelle VA facility in West Los Angeles brought Fox Squirrels from their homes in the Mississippi Valley. I don't know whether the veterans considered the squirrels pets or snacks. But, somehow the rodents got loose and the rest is history.

Fox Squirrels liked it in southern California -- nice weather, year 'round food, lots of neighborhood trees, no natural enemies. Kind of squirrel heaven.

So they expanded outward from Sawtelle -- north, south, east and west -- travelling tree to tree, over utility lines and along open space corridors. Squirrel experts have studied and mapped expansion of the Fox Squirrel from their introduction at Sawtelle. According to the study, Fox Squirrels arrived in Pasadena in the 1970's.

These squirrels seem to much a natural part of the environment in Pasadena, it is strange to think they're really an introduced species and that there was a time, not so far away, when they didn't live here at all.

Monday, April 19, 2010

From the Lizard Files: Alligators

We see a lot of lizards, but it's news when we see an alligator lizard. I found this one Sunday while pulling weeds in a damp area of the yard. He's twisted up here in the bottom of a bucket getting ready to spring to freedom.

Check out the regenerated tail. These lizards can drop their tails when threatened and scamper away from danger leaving the tail behind to wriggle around and occupy the would-be threat. The tail then grows back, but as you can see here, looks a bit different from the original.

I looked back in my lizard file and saw this alligator my son caught two years ago and kept in a lizard habitat for a couple of days. You can see here how long their tails really are.

Another of the alligators we've seen. I think this is maybe a teenage alligator lizard.

Mostly we see fence lizards like this one I saw yesterday.

And I had to put up this fence lizard from the files. As you might gather from comparing the photos above -- alligator lizards have notoriously bad dispositions and are prone to bite while sleepy-eyed fence lizards tend to be more placid. In fact, the guy or gal above looks a little like Elmo.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Hike to Eaton Canyon Falls

The trail starts at the end of the parking lot in front of the Eaton Canyon Nature Center. It is 1.5 miles to the falls.

The trail soon dips down into a wide and rocky arroyo. A seasonal stream flows at the arroyo bottom. This the first of many stream crossings.

Once on the other side of the arroyo, we were treated to an inviting stretch of oak- lined trail.

Sycamores, oaks and lots of sage. The trail continues north skirting the east side of the arroyo. Some shade along the way, but mostly the trail is in the sun.

Every now and then you can see (and hear) the stream from the trail. This picture is taken just south of the (Mt. Wilson) toll road bridge. The arroyo is still very wide at this point.

Sign along the trail as we go under the bridge. Ain't it the truth.

On top of the bridge looking south.

OK. We've gone under the toll road bridge. This picture was taken looking back toward the bridge. It is cool and shady. The rock wall to the right foreshadows what is coming up. The canyon gets increasingly narrower from here on.

Millipede curled up in the hollowed end of a log. You know they only have a few hundred legs; not a thousand.

Very quickly the trail leads to some absolutely stunning scenes.

As the canyon narrows and the stream winds around solid rock walls, the trail jumps from one side of the stream to the other. Here we're crossing from the left side to catch the trail again on the right side.

Then crossing back to the other side. There are lots of big boulders and logs to help at the stream crossings. But, unless you are very nimble, you're going to get wet.

Into the canyon. The falls are around the corner and I can almost hear the roar of rushing water.
A short scramble over some boulders and after crossing the stream again, we've arrived. Eaton Canyon Falls drops about 40 to 50 feet into a shallow round pool.

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I think I'll wade in next to the falls. Ready to get wet?

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That was refreshing! I'll just sit back on the warm rocks, dry out a bit and enjoy the falls. Watch for the little dog jumping in the pool to fetch a stick.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Where is the One Place You Would Take a Newcomer?


Let's say your friend has just moved to Pasadena. You think Pasadena's pretty special and you want to your friend to know why. Of all the places you want them to see, where do you take them? You can only pick one place.

My great aunt and uncle had an answer to that question. Here's the story:

My great aunt and uncle, God rest their souls, were known for their unannounced visits. I remember as a kid watching their car pull up in front of our house and hearing my mom frantically announce, "Margaret and Allen are here," as she raced from room to room. They were wonderful people, their only apparent flaw being a resistance to calling ahead. Drove my mom nuts.

And so, when Marcia and I married and moved to Pasadena, it was ordained that one day (we knew not when) Margaret and Allen would come visiting. Sure enough, not long after we moved here, they showed up on our doorstep.

The visit was unannounced, but not without reason. My great aunt and uncle had an agenda. There was something they wanted us to see. Something very special.

They knew a few things about Pasadena. My aunt had grown up here and, after they got married in the 1930's, she and my uncle settled here. They raised their family here and my uncle worked as an accountant. Later in life they moved on to another city. But, they still had fond memories of Pasadena. They were excited we had moved to their old hometown and there was something they wanted us to know about our new home.

So, after obligatory pleasantries about our super-fixer bungalow, my uncle said, "Let's take a drive." The four of us got in the car (elderly couple in the front seat and the young couple in the back) and we were off. My uncle mentioned the name of the place we were going and asked if we'd ever been there. Not only had we never been there, we hadn't even heard of the place. "Well, this place is beautiful," my uncle said. "You just have to see it."

Now, Pasadena has a lot of great places. Maybe more than any city its size, Pasadena can boast of historical landmarks, architectural gems, famous institutions. There are the grand public buildings, magnificent mansions, tree lined streets, museums, colleges, the Rose Bowl and the list goes on and on.

But, we weren't going to any of these.

Instead, my uncle drove north out of town. He went up Lake Avenue all the way to the end of the road, then left on Loma Alta. From there he turned onto Chaney Trail and drove us up a steep narrow road along a sparse hillside into the mountains.

Finally, the road dipped into a cool green canyon. We had come to the end of the road and the end of the mystery. We were at Millard Canyon.

Margaret and Allen were too old by then to get out and walk up the trail. So, my uncle parked the car looking toward the stream and trail. Marcia and I listened as the elder couple reminisced. They talked about the stream and the falls and the many times they came to the canyon. They talked about how fortunate we were to have such a beautiful place so close to Pasadena.

In all their decades of living in the city, the place they most remembered and most cherished was actually outside the city limits. It was Millard Canyon. That's the special place they wanted us to know about. They had driven over an hour, gambling we'd be home, to show us the canyon.

After the drive to Millard Canyon, my great aunt and uncle had accomplished their mission. They drove us back to our house, dropped us off and were gone. I don't remember any more about their visit other than the mention of Mijares as a good restaurant.

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That visit took place more than twenty years ago. Since then we've often been back to Millard Canyon. Before kids and after kids, we've hiked along the stream to the waterfall countless times. For his fifth birthday, my son and I camped there at the small campground. It is truly a remarkable spot.

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I am grateful to my great aunt and uncle for sharing their canyon with us. But, beautiful as it is, Millard Canyon is not the first place I would take a newcomer. That special place is, of course, East of Allen. I'll get to that in my next post.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Grand Plans and Grand Ballrooms: A Story of Open Space and Ice Rinks

The city has scrapped plans to build a 50,000 square foot ice skating rink and parking for 150 cars on this open field adjacent to Eaton Wash. This field, which lies between Orange Grove and Foothill, will remain open space. The ice rink will stay at the Convention Center.

Like everything in Pasadena, there's some history to tell here. There is the saga of ice skating in Pasadena. And there are the plans for this unassuming field -- grand plans that never caught on. It all goes back about 80 years.........

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We start in 1932 when plans were adopted for Eaton Canyon Park extending from the mouth of Eaton Canyon all the to Pasadena's southern border. This was the first grand plan for the Eaton Canyon and Eaton Wash. It called for continuous parkland on both sides of the wash -- kind of a modest version of the Arroyo Seco on the west side of town. The field pictured above was smack in the middle of the plan.

The grand plan doesn't seem to have stirred much of a following. East Pasadena was still the city's countryside -- the place of fields and dairies and open land to spare. Some probably thought, "there will be time to build the park, but not now."

Meanwhile, ice skating was on its way to Pasadena's downtown. In 1940, the Pasadena Winter Garden opened. It was home to a hockey team and figure skating classes. The Garden was a popular weekend hangout for folks who enjoyed live organ music and couples only skates. However, it is most famous as the original home of figure skater Peggy Fleming, who went on to win the only American gold medal at the '68 Winter Olympics.

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Fast forward 25 years.

Maybe live organ music didn't cut it in the hip 1960's. Or maybe interest in ice skating just subsided. For whatever reason, in 1966, the Winter Garden closed. Pasadena was without an ice skating rink.

As it happened, about this time, the city's attention turned to Eaton Canyon and open space along the Eaton Wash. The stage was set for an improbable marriage between Eaton Wash open space and ice skating.

In 1967, Pasadena's Director of Parks approved a grand plan for Eaton Canyon Development. This was truly a remarkable plan. The focal point was a hiking, biking and bridle trail along Eaton Wash. There was a wild bird sanctuary a the Eaton Wash Reservoir and ample amenities spread out along the wash trial.

The plan called for a cluster of attractions between Orange Grove and Foothill. No doubt aware of the Winter Garden's demise, the plan called for a new ice skating rink in this area. The new rink would be part of a group of active venues including an outdoor roller rink, an amphitheater, an animal farm and a swim club.

The plan never took hold. With the 70's came a city-wide push for development. The city's vision for the area turned to industrial and residential development.

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Meanwhile, ice skating returned in the mid-1970's . At that time, the city developed a a series of buildings around the Pasadena Civic Auditorium that would serve as a convention center. The new buildings made the old Grand Ballroom expendable. The Ballroom was converted to an ice rink and has been used as an ice rink ever since.

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Fast forward 30 years.

Several years ago the city made plans to renovate the convention center. Part of the plan was to return the Grand Ballroom to it's original use. But, the city had a problem. There was an ice rink in the Ballroom and the city had a long term lease with the ice rink operator. If it wanted to restore the Ballroom, the city would have to find a place for the ice rink. Where could the city put an ice rink?

Well, you guessed it. There happened to be an open field over on the east side of town. Somehow this field had escaped development and it was now solution to the city's problem. Plans were made, permits obtained. It looked like the field was destined for an ice rink and parking lot.

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But, times change. By 2009, a shaky economy caused the city to rethink the wisdom of risking public dollars on the construction and operation of an ice rink. On reconsideration, the council voted not to risk the funds.

But there's another sea change at play here -- a change in how the public regards its remaining urban open space and a new awareness of how our actions impact our environment. When the ice rink solution appeared a few years ago, the city was just starting to explore what it meant to be a "green" and sustainable city. The city is now further along that road and has often stated its aspiration to leadership in environmental awareness and action.

Though the economy may and hopefully will change for the better, I hope an ice rink on this open field is now a nonstarter. For an environmentally aware city, the incongruity is striking. Why would Pasadena want to build a giant refrigerated box and a parking lot on some of its last remaining open space?

Yes, times have changed and with the passing years so have attitudes and values about what should be built, what should be preserved and what should be pursued. All of which brings me back to where we started. Now, about those trails in the '67 plan....

Oak-lined Eaton Wash immediately to the west of the former ice rink site.