Angeles National Forest is practically in my backyard. I’ve visited a few times in the past, but it wasn’t until recently when I discovered the work of David Horner, a Santa Monica based photographer who specializes in wild butterfly photography (solardarkroom.com) that my interest was piqued. His California Butterfly Project (over 10 years in the making) includes over 100 species that he photographed in the wild from sea level to 10,000 ft. from the border to Sonora Pass in the Sierra Nevada. I took notice that many of his sightings were located right here in the Angeles National Forest. About two years ago, I started a butterfly garden, Since then I’ve become somewhat of a butterfly enthusiast mostly observing them in my backyard and on my visits to local public gardens. When I saw the number of different butterfly species we have here in California on David’s website, I was inspired to revisit Angeles NF not only in the hopes of viewing butterflies in their natural habitats, but also to take advantage of the multitude of hiking trails. Years ago when I lived in Pennsylvania, I did quite a bit of hiking on solitary trails surrounded by nothing but the birds, the trees, the wildlife and peace and quiet. But now that I’ve been living in a big city, I didn’t really think too much about what else was available here aside from the overly populated locations such as runyon canyon or hiking up to the Hollywood sign. This past weekend I recruited my husband as my hiking partner (since you should never hike alone) and we ventured into Angeles NF. The drive alone up the winding roads offers such spectacular views. I’d planned ahead and decided our destination would be to hike from Charlton Flats to the top of Vetter Mountain. As we climbed up the trail, I was able to see first hand some of the damage done by the 2009 Station Fire which burned more than 161,000 acres. I also noticed lots of poodle dog bush which is a plant that causes skin irritation similar to poison oak if touched. Much of this was located within the burn area perimeter and as I later learned, it’s usually found in nearly all habitats that have been burned. Winding up the mountain, the trail was nothing less then spectacular with breathtaking views and wildflowers. We detoured off the main path to do an out and back trek along the Silver Moccasin trail which traversed upward and down through oak-lined canyons and high ridges. One day I’d like to take that trial a little further, as I didn’t want to get too side tracked since our goal was to reach the top of Vetter Mountain. After getting back on the main trail, we continued our journey until we reached the top of the fire lookout at Vetter Mountain. There we shared friendly conversation with forest rangers who were happy to answer our questions about the location. These people stand guard daily over our beautiful forest with nothing but a small shelter. The actual lookout tower was burned in the Station Fire. I have to give them credit for being up there all day watching out for us with the wind and colder temperatures on the 5,903 ft. summit. We then climbed to the top of what remains of the old lookout and stood for a moment to enjoy the 360 degree view of the San Gabriel Mountains. With mission accomplished, it was time to head back. Round trip with our Silver Moccasin detour we did about a 7 mile, 2.5 hour hike. My hope for the day was to possibly photograph at least one wild butterfly. My wish was granted by a little common branded skipper who I saw fluttering along the trail as we got closer to where we started at Charlton Flats. It was a great morning and I will definitely be visiting Angeles NF more frequently to take advantage to all that it has to to offer including butterfly sightings and more hiking adventures.
Out and Back, Silver Moccasin Trail