The Angeles Crest Highway has claimed all the publicity in the reopening of huge stretches of the Angeles National Forest that have been closed since the Station fire almost two years ago. But it is the hiking trails that provide the revelation. Virtually every tree is still gaunt and blackened, except for the startling white of an occasional young yucca. But the flowering shrubs — yellow, purple and orange — have grown so high and dense that in many places, you can’t see over, or through, them. Already the first butterflies of the season are back.
What a difference from the charred mess in the months following the fire, when whole hillsides were bare of vegetation and the only signs of life were a few insects crawling listlessly along the dry earth or a small group of crows searching for the burned remains of small animals. Now the lifeless grey and brown slopes that were painful to look at are covered in bright spring grass that is, in places, too thick to easily force a way through.
Why does the power of life to endure and reproduce itself always surprise us? What else has it to do?
Hikers and mountain bikers are tasting again the sense of isolation that comes from delving for even a few minutes into this vast, empty area. For most of the time since the reopening, on each of the hikes I’ve taken from the very first trailhead not much more than a mile from the forest boundary, I’ve been entirely alone, reveling in that unique feeling of being at one with nature. Yet every now and then, from openings on the trail, you can see and almost touch the flatlands where millions of us live.
It goes without saying that the U.S. has some of the grandest mountains in the world and the nearby Sierra Nevadas are more beautiful by far; but none of the other largest cities in the world has a range of uninhabited mountains so easy to get into as these rugged, challenging San Gabriels. It’s good to have them back.
REG GREEN (www.nicholasgreen.org) is the author of “The Nicholas Effect.” He lives in La Cañada Flintridge.