It was the perfect day for our first ever group event at the Tunnels to Nowhere in the San Gabriel Mountains.
When I launched Straynger Ranger back on April 1, 2016, organizing group events was always part of the plan. When things settled down a bit and I finally got around to deciding on where to do it, I knew hiking the Tunnels to Nowhere would be the perfect fit. Especially in January, when the skies are clearer and the temperature for hiking is just right.
The hike is located approximately 40 miles from DTLA above the East Fork of the San Gabriel River.
The trailhead is located next to the parking lot at the end Shoemaker Canyon Road.
Just as we were about to depart on our hike, a Ranger pulls up and starts harassing us with his smile.
Fortunately, I was able to disarm with my own smile and we were on our way. We’re rangers, that’s how we roll.
To the east is Iron Mountain (8007ft), supposedly the hardest peak in the entire San Gabriel Range. 300 feet down below is the trailhead and road that leads to the Bridge to Nowhere, which is twice as long as this hike and also requires multiple river crossings.
With its towering rock walls and dramatic V-shaped gorge, the East Fork of the San Gabriel River is monumental in scale, boasting some of the most rugged relief in all of Southern California.
One would logically conclude that such terrain would discourage engineers from even thinking about building a highway up the East Fork to connect with Angeles Crest Highway.
But two generations of road builders did try.
The first attempt began in 1929 when road crews constructed a highway in the lower reaches of the canyon.
The “storm of the century” (March 1, 1938) hit the mountains, and the San Gabriel River ripped the roadway to pieces. Left behind was the “Bridge to Nowhere,” a reminder of nature’s power now crossed only by hikers.
In 1954, engineers attacked the East Fork again. This time the Los Angeles County road department, using inmate labor from the California Men’s Institution in Chino, began constructing the highway higher up on the west wall of the canyon to avoid the possibility of another flood. Despite 15 years of hard work, only 4.5 miles of road were ever completed.
In 1969, county budget cuts and protests by conservationists led officials to halt construction. When the area was granted wilderness status in 1984, there was little possibility the highway project would ever be revived. “Convict Road,” as it was known back then, stands today as a monument to bad planning.
It was approx. 1.7 miles before we reached the first tunnel which was completed in 1961 and sits at an elevation of 2785 feet.
It’s the longest of the two tunnels, at just over 1,000 feet in length [almost a quarter of a mile].
Everyone had a great time exploring the interior of the abandoned tunnels and even the dogs couldn’t resist playing in the puddles left by the most recent storms that passed through the area.
The backside of Tunnel #1.
Making our way to tunnel #2…
…which was completed in 1964.
At 700-feet long, it’s 300-feet shorter than its sister to the south.
The unfinished look, with its exposed rebar awaiting the pouring of concrete for its lower walls, probably means the project wasn’t completely finished when it was abandoned in 1969.
The only sign of life we found living inside the tunnels were a group of sparrows in Tunnel #2. Other animals most likely avoid making homes inside because the tunnels are open on both ends and don’t provide enough protection from predators. Both also appear to be on a slight decline, so during heavy storms, each tunnel turns into a river.
I couldn’t of asked for a better ending to our first official group event. There’s plenty of other events on the horizon including more hikes, mine exploration tours and camping trips with a twist. Don’t miss out on the next one, reserve your spot on a future event by following Straynger Ranger on FB.