This spring I will get to do something I haven’t been able to do in almost two years: hike into parts of the Angeles National Forest that have been off-limits because of the Bobcat fire in 2020. 

The fire that swept over some 115,796 acres has kept some of my favorite spots — Sturtevant Falls in Big Santa Anita Canyon and the Devil’s Punchbowl in Valyermo, to name a couple — off limits. The U.S. Forest Service’s closure order is scheduled to expire April 1.

The fire started Sept. 6, 2020, and was pretty much contained by late October. Little by little, parts of the forest reopened, including the main Mount Wilson Trail from Sierra Madre. I’ve hiked that trail since and have seen some signs of charred brush, but for the most part, it’s in good shape. Other places are not. The Cogswell Dam area of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument burned so badly that biologists and forest rangers rushed in to rescue endangered fish and frogs and move them to safer habitats.

Matthew Bokach, manager of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, said in a recent email that he was most concerned about downed trees blocking trails in designated wilderness areas. Chain saws cannot be used in protected wilderness areas.

Trails affected by fallen trees include the Burkhart Trail, which leads to Cooper Canyon Falls; the Gabrielino Trail between Redbox and Chantry Flat; and the Windy Gap/Little Jimmy/Mount Islip area. “Burkhart (Trail) is a veritable ocean of dead trees that we have no easy way to cut down,” Bokach wrote. Volunteers and partners assessed the hazards, but work hasn’t yet been done. However, the High Desert Trail between the South Fork Campground and Devil’s Punchbowl has been cleared of hazardous trees. 

So mark your calendar for the great reopening to get a glimpse of how much nature has healed (or not) in the last few years.

Special anniversaries

The Watts Towers at 100: One of L.A.'s funkiest outdoor landmarks stands tall. Technically, the Watts Towers at 1727 E. 107th St. in L.A. is National Historic Landmark No. 77000297. But no one would have imagined that when Sabato Rodia began building his empire of rebar, concrete, wire mesh and broken bits of ceramics. Rodia even called it “Nuestro Pueblo,” or “our town” in the diverse neighborhood where he lived — and could be seen climbing the spires of stuff. “By the end of 1921, his towers were well underway to becoming one of Los Angeles’ most admired and least understood landmarks,” Times writer Christopher Reynolds notes. Learn the trajectory of the towers’ history and where they’re at now in this story.

Stearns Wharf marks 150th: Take a stroll on Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara to mark its sesquicentennial. These days we like to walk on piers and wharfs for enjoyment and views, and Stearns Wharf is no exception. A century and a half ago, John Peck Stearns built the wharf to make loading and offloading cargo from ship to shore easier. It ranks as the oldest working wooden wharf in California. Things to know: The wharf is 2,300 feet long and supported by 2,307 pilings, according to the Stearns Wharf website. Now it’s one of the city’s most popular tourist stops. Check out more facts about the wharf and anniversary specials at local businesses.

Winter tips

Whether you are driving to a ski resort or seeking a snowy sledding spot, the U.S. Forest Service wants you to plan ahead. One thing to remember: Microspikes that attach to your boots are primarily for flat ground; icy conditions and deeper snow require crampons. Here are some Angeles National Forest tips for safe winter travel:

—Make sure you have snow chains and a full tank of gas for your vehicle when you are going to the mountains.

—Bring warm clothes and food in case you have to spend the night unexpectedly. Conditions can change, or you could get stuck in the snow. Most forest areas don’t have cellphone coverage. (Put your phone on airplane mode while you’re in the mountains to conserve the battery.)

—Make sure someone knows where you’re going and when you plan to return. They can alert authorities if something goes wrong and you don’t come back at the expected time and date.

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