Politics Step Aside at George Deukmejian Park

George Deukmejian Wilderness Park.

Could it be a map-maker’s mistake? Sarcasm from some curmudgeonly conservationist?

Even his most ardent supporters would probably agree that ecology was not the centerpiece of Deukmejian’s two terms as governor of California.

Nevertheless, George Deukmejian Wilderness Park, which opened last year, preserves 702 acres in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, just above Glendale/La Crescenta. Two steep canyons--Dunsmore and Cook--make up most of the park, which adjoins Angeles National Forest.


The city of Glendale purchased the property in 1989 for $5.2 million from the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, using Prop. 70 park bond funds.

The conservation group SWAP (Small Wilderness Area Preservation) had been particularly effective in saving the canyon from a 283-home subdivision and in helping to secure the necessary park funds.

Deukmejian attended the dedication ceremony of his namesake park shortly before leaving office earlier this year.

Long before anyone talked about a park, Gabrielino Indians roamed the foothill canyons. In later years, Dunsmore Canyon was part of a Spanish land grant and was known as a favorite hide-out of bandito Tiburcio Vasquez. Legend has it that from a lookout at a prominent oak tree (still standing on the property), Vasquez watched for pursuing posses.


In the early years of this century, a French immigrant planted a vineyard and built a little winery in Dunsmore Canyon. The grapes grown in the canyon were used in the making of brandies. In Los Angeles, the brandies were bottled and marketed under the “Old Heritage” label.

A private equestrian center, which provides board and training for horses, now uses part of the old winery as a tack room.

George Deukmejian Wilderness Park is very much a park-in-the making. At present there are no facilities or interpretive displays.

How much of the park to develop is a matter of hot debate around Glendale these days. Some city park planners would like to widen and pave roads and build a huge equestrian center, giant parking lots and a 750-seat amphitheater.

Members of SWAP would be content with a small nature education center, leaving the park undeveloped.

Most of the park consists of chaparral-cloaked hillsides and a seasonal stream lined with oak and alder. On the higher slopes grow scattered big cone spruce.

Bird-watchers will find many native and migrant species: the California towhee, rufous-sided towhee, Berwick’s wren, yellow-rumped warbler and that most ubiquitous of chaparral dwellers, the wrentit.

The park’s trail system consists of a couple miles of dirt roads (closed to vehicles). One rocky road leads a long mile up Dunsmore canyon and dead-ends. Another road circles a hill and offers good San Fernando Valley views. In the future, hikers hope the trail system can be extended to connect with trails and fire roads in the adjacent Angeles National Forest.


Directions to trail head: From the Foothill Freeway (Interstate 210) in Glendale, exit on Pennsylvania Avenue and head half a mile north to Foothill Boulevard. Turn left and drive 1 1/4 miles to Dunsmore Avenue, then go right and drive a short mile to the avenue’s end at George Deukmejian Wilderness Park. Proceed up a long asphalt driveway and park in the dirt lot. Park docents lead hikes on the fourth Saturday of every month beginning at 9 a.m.

The hike: From the stables, walk up-canyon on unsigned Dunsmore Canyon Trail, which is the main park road. About a hundred yards past a check-dam in the canyon bottom, look left for a rough dirt road. This an alternate route back to the trail head.

The dam and flood control works you see below are mentioned in John McPhee’s recent book, “The Control of Nature.” (Anyone who wants to know more about L.A. ecology and how engineers have battled the forces of nature in the front range of the San Gabriel Mountains will find McPhee’s book fascinating.)

The route up Dunsmore Canyon stays above the creek bed and finally dead-ends at a woodsy perch above the seasonal creek. If you want to proceed from here, the route is trail-less. You can bushwhack and boulder-hop up either of two ravines.

As you return down-canyon, look right for the alternate return trail and ascend a short distance up to a good viewpoint of the San Fernando Valley. The trail then skirts Cook Canyon, reaches another overlook by some eucalyptus, and descends back to the trail head.

Hiking / San Gabriel Mountains Dunsmore Canyon Trail Where: George Deukmejian Wilderness Park, Glendale Distance: 2-3 miles round trip; 500-foot elevation gain. Terrain: Foothills of San Gabriel Mountains. Highlights: Rustic canyon, San Fernando Valley views. For more information: Contact the Glendale Parks and Recreation Dept. at (818) 548-2000.