Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Peak-Bagger No More

Hiking with Little Kids, Pasadena

Once you have a kid, you have to adjust your hiking expectations. You’re likely to see less backcountry and more front country. I used to turn my nose up at the easily accessibly places most people hike. They were too tame, populated with too many people and dogs. But since our son was born, I’ve found a new appreciation for places like Eaton Canyon, in the foothills of the San Gabriels near Altadena. From a toddler’s perspective, dogs and kids make a trail exciting. Plus, there’s a stream, and many rocks to stick in his mouth or throw. The first time we came here, our son touched the water tentatively. The next time, he nearly jumped in.

Eaton Canyon County Park and Nature Center
1750 North Altadena Drive
Pasadena, CA 91107

Eaton Canyon is also a great place to start bird watching (the best viewing is in early morning or at dusk). The Pasadena chapter of Audubon hosts free walks here. The group leaders are patient with even the most rudimentary bird watching questions. I saw my first Phainopepla (males are black with a long tail and a spiky crest) here. I also enjoyed a close-up view look at--and listen to--a house wren.

Try picnicking under the large oaks near the nature center. (Note: no grass here, so a blanket is a must.) Much of the main trail can be trekked with a jogger, but if you want to go farther upstream, you’ll need a carrier for a young child. For a nice stream-side walk, head north from the nature center, cross the riverbed and turn left on the wide trail on the other side of the riverbed. To head upstream, keep to your left instead of taking trails that climb to your right. The beginning of this trail can be quite hot in summer, so start out early or try the shortcut below. Also, never hike without water.

When you get to the bridge, take one of the paths down toward the water, and follow the path under the bridge. This will keep you on route to the waterfall.

You probably won’t make it to the waterfall if you’re hiking with little kids. But here’s a shortcut to get you closer—if not all the way there. Instead of parking at the nature center, follow Altadena drive roughly a half mile farther north. Pull over at the dirt turnout on your right. Take the trail down into the canyon, cross the stream (or stream bed, depending on the time of year), and pick up the main trail on the other side.

Recommended reference:
For beginners, use field guides that list only local animals and plants such as Birds of the Los Angeles Region by Kimball L. Garrett, Jon L. Dunn, and Bob Morse or Birds of Los Angeles by Chris C. Fisher and Herbert Clarke

Once you’ve got a handle on the major types of birds, try my favorite bird guide: Kaufman Focus Guides’ Birds of North America by Ken Kaufman. The digitally enhanced photos are the best I’ve found for identifying birds.

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