Sunday, March 20, 2016

Historic Los Angeles Aqueduct Trail

Map Track Link

Bird Lists:

Noname Canyon
County Line Canyon
Boulder Canyon

LA Aqueduct at Noname Canyon
As much as I dislike what the LA Aqueducts do to the Eastern Sierra water, I have to admire the engineering and effort of the first aqueduct. Construction of the original aqueduct started in 1908 and was completed in 1913 - and still operates today. At the peak there were 3,900 workers, in an age when heavy machinery for this kind of construction was still to be developed. The water is gravity fed for the entire distance and includes many tunnels (43 miles in all) through significant sections of mountains. Every time we go to one of the east side canyons near home we see the results of this amazing engineering project. 

A few weeks ago Susan and I were just getting started with a hike in Noname Canyon. A fellow came along in his truck and stopped to chat for a few minutes. He asked us if we were familiar with the original construction trail (foot path) for the first aqueduct. We weren't so he pointed out where it left the canyon bottom and told us it was possible to follow it all the way to Sand Canyon miles to the south. Well, we just had to try that! Saturday morning we drove back up to Noname Canyon and began our adventure.

On the trail
The path was relatively easy to find and follow for quite a while. Considering this path was constructed over 100 years ago and had no maintenance since, it was in remarkably good condition. The trail mostly followed the contour line around the point of the mountain and into the next canyon, only rising and dropping to navigate around geologic impediments. Because this is the Mojave Desert and plant growth is slow, the vegetation in the trail wasn't too bad. The flowers along the trail were as spectacular as we've been seeing for weeks now.  We even found quite a few Charlotte's Phacelia, a locally rare flower. 

Aqueduct traverses the mouth of Noname Canyon

Pipe enters the mountain

Over 100 years ago the pipe was made of riveted steel

Noname Canyon in the background, the southbound pipe enters the mountain (to the left)

View northwest (Noname Canyon to the left) with the Coso Range in the background

Another view of the pipe leaving the mountain on the north end and traversing Noname Canyon

Evening Snow

Coso Range and desert floor


Mojave Aster

Susan traverses one of the well constructed rock bridges

Mojave Aster

Charlotte's Phacelia

Mountain top above trail. The rock climbers apparently love these formations

Many Charlotte's Phacelia

The view south just before entering County Line Canyon. The Sand Canyon gravel operation is obvious.

A little over a mile later we rounded the bend and into the next canyon - County Line Canyon. As the name suggests, it sits right on the border of Inyo and Kern Counties. This is a steep rugged canyon with an apparently popular rock climbing area. We saw 5 climbers coming in from the south as we moved toward the back of the canyon. The problem here for us was the worn-out bridge across the rugged canyon mouth. 100+ years had taken its toll on the structure. We had to drop a ways down the canyon to the base of the tailings pile and climb back up again.

County Line Canyon and the tailings from tunneling into the mountain

County Line Canyon

Tunneling entrance from back in the day - mostly collapsed now

The "bridge"

No way was Susan going to walk the "balance beam" over a 50 foot drop

County Line Canyon tailings pile from the north side

Sulpher-flower Buckwheat in full bloom
Not sure about this graffiti - I'm pretty sure we knew it was a rock...

Moving past County Line Canyon we came to more modern construction, a well graded dirt road that terminated about 1/2 mile south. These roads were built much later, probably around the time of the second aqueduct construction in the late 1960's. This road obliterated the original trail to the mouth of the next canyon - Boulder. 

Graded dirt road

Bush Monkey Flower, the first we've seen this spring

Bush Monkey Flower
Bolder Canyon had a fascinating construction feature, a bypass gate that allows the water to be diverted out of the underground pipe and down into the desert. It leaked slightly allowing for a nice puddle that birds could drop down to. Below the steep sided concrete channel were some willows growing, so I would guess that some water is getting below for other wildlife to access.

Boulder Draw bypass gate

Water for the birds

Boulder Canyon looking down

Newer aqueduct access road below

After passing the Boulder gate, we took a line to the south, and above the new road, that would put us on the old trail again. We could see faint remnants of it in the hillside. Erosion has taken it's toll on this section as most of our walking was by guess until a faint man-made feature could be seen. We kept this up for the last mile or so, finally reaching the mouth of Sand Canyon. After lunch with a great view we descended to the new road below and backtracked to Boulder Canyon. From there is was simply retracing our route back to the car. 

Finding our way with little trail evidence

Purple and White Phacelia side by side

The trail is all but gone in this section

Side-hill traversing

Sand Canyon gravel operation.  You can't see the extent of this beast from the desert floor

Sand Canyon. The aqueduct leaves the mountain tunnel and traverses the canyon before entering another mountain

The final descent. We could just barely make out the old trail occasionally by a line of rocks

Sand Canyon and the new road

Mixed wildflowers cover a hillside
Birding was great all day, especially for such a remote area. We saw the beginning of migration with Orange-crowned Warblers in Noname Canyon. Along the route we had many solitary Chuckar calling loudly in search of a mate, a couple Canyon Wrens singing from the rocks above, and more Rock Wrens than you could shake a stick at. The highlight was on the return trip when we stopped for a break at County Line Canyon and watched a number of White-throated Swifts fly by repeatedly only yards away from us. With all the PCT training miles we're doing it's getting harder to find interesting new hikes without driving far. This one certainly qualified as interesting, or rather - an adventure!

1 comment: