Pedal Into L.A.'s Trolleyed Past

Brown Mountain
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This trip begins at 1,440 feet, at the corner of Chaney Trail and Loma Alta Drive in Altadena, an area that used to be known for nursing plants into life and for nursing people back to health. This is a difficult, paved climb that takes you past reminders of Altadena's past: a commercial nursery on the left, and the pentagonal cabins of the one remaining sanitarium on the right.

At 0.54 miles you climb one of the San Gabriels' steepest sections of paved road—but you are also rewarded for your effort by the first of this trip's great views of the San Gabriel Valley and beyond.

At 1.16 miles and 2,080 feet, by the BROWN MTN. ROAD 1 sign, you turn left and descend into the canyon, first homesteaded in 1862 by Henry Millard. At the bottom of the hill, having descended to 1,900 feet, you continue straight, past a locked gate, onto a dirt road. As you ride through the 5-site Millard Canyon Campground, you'll probably be able to hear the stream on your left and probably be able to notice the cabin on your right, one of several in Millard Canyon.

These and a few others, such as those in Big Santa Anita Canyon, are the only cabins that survived the 1938 flood. Many date from the 1910s, when they could be built on land leased from the Forest Service for as little as $15 a year.

Your water bottles should be filled here: It's the only source of drinking water on the trip.

This campground is among the most pleasant in the San Gabriels. Few residents of the Los Angeles area are aware that this shaded campground, with a nearly-year-round stream, even exists. But its easy accessibility means it fills up early, sometimes even on winter weekends.

You may want to lock your bike here and hike the 1/4 mile upstream to Millard Canyon Falls. Along with the lovely falls, you'll see evidence of the canyon's mining past and a few more cabins.

Back on your bike, you ford the stream, turn left and begin climbing out of the canyon. Although this is mostly chaparral country, a few large oaks, occasional junipers, and a grove of young pine trees provide infrequent shade.

At 2.85 miles you reach El Prieto canyon. In 1854 Robert Owen, a former slave, came here seeking refuge from the prejudice he had found in Los Angeles. He built a cabin nearby, and by working in the valley became able to buy his family's freedom and bring them from Texas. He also supplied the Army with local wood and used the money from this endeavor to buy land in Los Angeles.

Because of him, this canyon used to be known as Negro Canyon, although today it is called El Prieto, which in Spanish means blackish or darkish.

Two other residents of the El Prieto Canyon area were Jason and Owen Brown, sons of John Brown, the famous Abolitionist. They arrived in 1884 and in 1885. As a tribute to their father, they wanted to name a mountain after him. They first attached the name to the summit we now know as Mount Lowe. This choice obviously didn't stick, but a later try for a slightly lower peak succeeded.

El Prieto's stream may have been the reason Owen chose this place as a homesite, and even now it creates a virtual oasis of oaks, pines and ferns. But the stream, which usually flows across the road, also gives rise to a great deal of poison oak.

This is a great ride, because on a clear day you see Santiago Peak in Orange County, the harbors of Long Beach and San Pedro, Palos Verdes, Santa Catalina and the Santa Monica Mountains. And if you do it in the late afternoon, the reflection of the sun off Santa Monica Bay can be a glorious, golden spectacle.

At 3.79 miles, at the junction with road 2N66, you continue right. It descends into the Arroyo Seco Canyon. As you pedal, you can see the road to Mount Lukens on the other side of the canyon.

Another 0.5 mile brings you to Fern Canyon. It has several oaks, with one huge example growing right in the middle of the road. Also here is a trough for horses, but cyclists must go thirsty.

Another few minutes of gradual climbing bring you to a spot where, with the 210 freeway far below, you can see across the Arroyo Seco Canyon to where the road to Mount Lukens leaves the Angeles Crest Highway. It is so far away that the sound of the wind and the songs of the birds drown out all but an occasional motorcycle.

After 6.19 miles and almost 2 hours, you reach the 2,900-foot end of the Brown Mountain Road. Here you may want to lock your bike to the steel box and climb the 1.5-mile trail that ascends the steep ridge to your east to the 4,466-foot summit.

After the hike, backtrack on your bike until at 9.88 miles you turn right onto the road marked by the sign ALTADENA 1.

At 10.10 miles you arrive at an area where, today, people reside for the spot's serenity and beauty, probably the same reasons the Browns chose this area. Here you carry your bike over a locked gate and begin descending a paved road.

At 10.19 miles, where the pavement turns left, you continue straight, uphill, on a dirt road. After 50 yards, just before reaching the electrical tower, you turn left onto a dirt trail. Because of the steepness and the erosion, you'll probably find yourself walking for a short distance. Then you ride beneath the electric tower, turn left, and continue riding until you come to a Y at the base of a small hill.

Here at 10.30 miles either leave your bike by a wooden rail that you can see across the left branch of the Y, or you can push it up this branch of the trail for about 1 minute.

At 10.35 miles, on the 1,934-foot summit of Little Roundtop, is the grave of Owen Brown. A survivor of the Harper's Ferry raid, he spent his last years in this area with a price on his head.

Now you backtrack and turn right onto the paved road at 10.50 miles. This is a fast, steep descent with two potentially hazardous dips.

At 11.10 miles you turn left onto Canyon Crest Road. As this road leaves the residential area, you find yourself above lower Millard Canyon. You can see an older home on the other side of the canyon built from native stones. As you ride the sweeping turn into the bottom of the canyon, you again cross Millard Stream, and then begin the climb up the other side.

At 12.25 miles turn right onto Lincoln Avenue and then almost immediately left onto Loma Alta Drive.

At 12.85 miles you reach Chaney Trail and the start of the trip.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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