Monday, November 8, 2010

Franklin Canyon, Part II. It Still Doesn't Look Like L.A.

We left off last time heading north towards Upper Franklin Canyon Reservoir.   


Road to the Upper Reservoir
Although from this distance it all looks like typically dry Southern California chaparral country, the road leading towards the dam runs through a deep glen below the dam, where large old-growth trees are so abundant that the entire area usually seems cool and even a bit gloomy.

As we pass the dam on our left, the road becomes one way and circles the lake counterclockwise.   We stop for a picture just past the dam.

Down at the shore near the dam.

After this, there aren't many places to stop on the eastern side until we get to the Sooky Goldman Nature Center.  Actual, formerly living stuffed animals aren't everybody's cup of tea, but it is worth stopping to look at the mountain lion exhibit.
  
At the Nature Center: Stuffed cougar
Did you know that mountain lions can purr?  They can! The exhibit provides a button you can press to hear what this purring sounds like.  It's sort of like miking your cat through a Fender Twin Reverb amplifier. 


Not far past the Nature Center is another good spot for a picture. 




The pampas grass is probably the most noticeable botanical feature here.   It's fairly common in all the canyon district, and those familiar with it know that "blade" is an appropriate term, in more ways than one, when used to describe a piece of this grass.

The dam and reservoir date back at least to 1912, and is said to have been where the water from the Owens Valley Aqueduct was first received into the city's water system.  After the 1971 Sylmar earthquake, city engineers examined both reservoirs and their dams and decommissioned them as active parts of the water utility.  A more modern, largely underground system replaced both of the old reservoirs.  It was also determined that the Upper Dam was not strong enough for the reservoir at capacity, so the water level was lowered about fifteen feet.   To maintain this level, small amounts of water are released nearly constantly, and the surface area and water volume are much lower today as a result.  Some of  what used to be the lake towards the northern end has reverted to meadow, as seen in the next picture.


Meadow at upper end of lake

Although the overall lack of palm trees is what originally drew movie crews to the area, beginning in the 1930s, palms are now very much in evidence here.   What appear to be decades worth of defunct, but untrimmed, fronds on the palm tree in the center-right of the picture give it a certain frowsy charm.   The short  palm to the right indicates that these trees are propagating themselves naturally.  The fir trees are considerably smaller than one would expect, being slightly stunted by the generally arid conditions.  Even if there is a lake and natural groundwater here, it's still Southern California.

 In numerous places, the shores are becoming increasingly choked with reeds, as a result of the shallow depth now required to be maintained.  This attracts ducks as a habitat, but the lake is gradually silting up.

 To the right of the road, on the western side of the lake, there's Heavenly Pond, which was created as an individual's Eagle Scout project.

Heavenly (Duck) Pond











People usually simply call it the duck pond.  It's worth at least one more photo:
















On the path around the pond there are a few boulders that host a thin green skin of lichen.  In the afternoon light they're reminiscent of a Japanese garden, especially with the patchy light, shade, and color aspects.
















Continuing past the duck pond, we reach the dam itself, where  the depth marker demonstrates how much lower the surface of the water is today, compared with its peak.





The reeds have sprung up even here, at what should be the deepest part of the lake.  It isn't even clear that the water comes up to  the bottom of the dam.  If the dam were taken away the water would probably stay right where it is. This isn't a good sign, and one hopes that the NPS is addressing the issue, since this is one of the star attractions of the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area.  It isn't a lack of available water that's the issue.  On the day when this picture was taken, quite a lot of water was being released to keep the level where it needs to be.  Evidently, this is done through the duck pond, because as you walk the path that runs around that, you can see water being released into a channel that conducts it away from the lake and down the canyon.  By Southern California standards, the rate at which it's being released is a torrent.  

Just as we enter the section of the road that runs along the dam, we pass what used to be the dam keeper's house.  

Dam Keeper's House.  The lake is to the right.
  










This house was probably built around 1912 or 1914, and is now occupied by a Park staffer.   In those days it must have taken a long time to reach this place, given the road conditions of the time.  Today, it's not very surprising that most people still need a car to reach this place; no public transit comes anywhere near it.  That's also generally true of the hillside residential tracts that fill the neighboring canyons. 

There's a deeply shaded grove just down the canyon from the dam. Remarkably, most of this greenery is a natural result of geography and climate.  This section of the park does not benefit directly from the releases of water; there is a large pipe that runs through this section, where it is elevated several feet off the ground.


Down the canyon from the dam











This scene calls to mind something out of a fantasy like Lord Of The Rings.  It could be the edge of the Old Forest; be careful not to arouse Old Man Willow as we pass by.


And that's the story of Franklin Canyon, an oasis of nature in the middle of Los Angeles.

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