Sausal Creek ~ Canyon Trail

This is a good story.  It’s got it all.  Adventure. Discovery. Danger. Sex (well… kissing). And more.  It’s the story of my Sausal Creek exploration last week.  I had hoped to share it last Friday but couldn’t pull it off and still do it justice. I hope you’ll join me now.

First, some background…

I went to my neighbors’ BBQ about a week ago and was speaking with some of their friends about the local area (Upper Dimond/Lincoln Heights)… I had recently discovered a small creek trail and gorgeous greenbelt just a few blocks from our houses on an old closed road that was shut down over a decade ago, thanks to a landslide during the El Niño winter of ’98.

Having lived in the neighborhood for years, and also being outdoorsy hiker-types, one of them asked, “Well do you know Dimond Park?” Sure I know Dimond Park.  I’ve played tennis there, picnicked there, checked out the pool, etc.  “Yeah, but did you know there’s a creek that runs into that park and there are trails you can follow all the way up the canyon that eventually connect to Joaquin Miller?”  No, I did not know this.

So a few days later I set out on my mission of discovery…

I followed my normal route to Dimond Park at the end of the workday – it’s about a 10 minute walk from my house.  But first, I popped down Fruitvale a couple blocks to get a delicious ice cream cone from Flavor Brigade (I was going to need sustenance afterall)…

All kinds of folks were out – playing tennis, walking dogs, strolling with strollers… kids were playing basketball, toddlers were climbing and swinging in the playground, and adult swim lessons were going on in the pool. It was a beautiful slice of community.

I kept walking and spotted the mural featured last week, and then seemed to come upon the end of the park. At least it was what I had always thought of as the end of the park…

Just past a patch of grass beyond the playground area there seemed to be an opening into the woods. As I walked towards it, casting a quick glance over my shoulder, I felt like the parents in the playground were watching me… “now where does she think she’s going?”

I stepped into the forest, and immediately felt like I was in a different world… all woodsy and canopied and dark. From the bustle of an urban park on Fruitvale Avenue to the quiet realm of bugs and newts and trolls, I seriously felt like I had walked through the closet door in the The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

dimond park, sausal creek trail

The creek ran along the left side of the trail, water gently trickling over exposed rocks. Old growth oak trees loomed overhead and yellow and brown laurel bay leaves dotted the ground and swirled in the water. Birds chirped and flies buzzed, and there literally was not another human in sight. I followed the path a short while before crossing a small road where the signs (above left and below) were stationed. The trail ducked back into the growth on the other side, and so I followed…

sausal creek hiking, dimond park recreation area

The creek, though low which is normal for summer, was lovely… delicate bright openings in the canopy reflected in slow moving waves. Blackberries and wildflowers grew trailside. Someone had scrawled a message in chalk along the wooden fence marking the edge of the trail… “Where is the LOVE?”
chalk art, graffiti art in nature
Followed by this…
graffiti art in sausal creek

I walked for what seemed ages… I came across no one, except for a young couple making out while standing under a tree about 50 feet to the right of the trail. They didn’t seem to register my presence at all, as their lips were fully locked.

As I continued along the trail taking photos and noting plants and critters, I wondered how far I would have to go in order to get up to Joaquin Miller. I was in an adventurous mood and was willing to press on without knowing for sure how long it might take… it was still early and our July days still long, and I hoped to make a large loop out of my hike, rather than having to backtrack the same way I had come. I pressed on…

Sausal Creek, sausal creek hiking trails

I noticed that parts of the creek had been built up with concrete, stamped “W.P.A. 1939”, yet another project resulting from heavy government stimulus funding post-Depression…
WPA 1939, works progress administration

I know now that the W.P.A. did a number of projects in the canyon including the stabilization and channelization of the creek thanks to A Short History of Dimond Canyon and Sausal Creek by Eleanor Dunn, provided by the Friends of Sausal Creek, a non-profit dedicated to protecting the creek and promoting watershed awareness.

I continued following the trail and came across the only other individuals I would see for the rest of my journey… two goth teenagers running down the trail towards me, chasing each other and laughing.  I asked if they knew where I’d end up if I kept going, and they said they weren’t really sure.  Where did I want to go? I told them I was hoping to make it up to Mountain Blvd or Lincoln or somewhere near the Mormon Temple.  They stammered a bit and said I’d better go back the way I came.  It wasn’t the answer I was looking for, and I decided to dismiss their youthful inexperience…

A few minutes after passing them I spotted something enormous overhead… some kind of landmark.  A bridge.  A big bridge. I was trying to get my bearings and figure out where the hell I was when I spotted the colorful markings of graffiti taggers on the concrete and steel above.  I decided to get a closer look…

Leimert Bridge, Sausal Creek, leimert bridge graffiti

It reminded me of my trip to Amsterdam with friends when we were out bicycling in nature and came across the most amazing batch of graffiti under a highway bridge (Under the Bridge in Amsterdam). I climbed up the steep and dry gravelly banks of the canyon to see if there was anything equally interesting here… Most of it was simple letter writing, which was somewhat disappointing, especially since I was scaling steep and treacherous terrain…

graffiti writing, leimert bridge

But there was one piece that looked amazing. You can see it small in the images above, and a little bigger below as I climbed up under the bridge, rather impressed with my climbing skills, and seriously impressed with this painter’s skills…
Graffiti Face under bridge
I managed to make it safely down from what I know now was the Leimert Bridge.

The bridge, conceived by developer Walter H. Leimert, was completed in 1926 and was the largest single span bridge of its time. “From its intersection at Park Boulevard , the bridge spanned over Sausal Creek and the 325 ft Dimond Canyon. After completion it brought commuter streetcars (the Park Boulevard #18 Car Line spur off the Key System) as well as automobiles into the heart of the new business center and the residential development [at Oakmore Highlands].” (The Leimert Bridge: Historical Background)  Cool, eh?

So back on the trail again, it seemed that hours had passed… the sky was growing dimmer, and I had no idea (despite my bridge landmark) how far I had come or how far I had to go.  I pressed on, but wasn’t entirely convinced of the shall-we-say “smartness” of my plan… the words of the goth kids were echoing in my brain… “you should probably go back.

I kept going but the trail seemed to be getting smaller and the thicket of growth surrounding it, denser. I was torn.  It seemed like it must be shorter to go forward, rather than all the way back that I had come. But I just wasn’t sure. I came to a point where trees had fallen across the trail and I had to crawl under them to keep going.  My sense of doom was growing.  And as I walked on I realized that either the trail had ended, or it was following the creek bed, which was not exactly my idea of casual hiking.

sausal creek hiking, sausal creek culvert

I decided that instead of pushing on through the creek, I would find a shortcut! Yes, intrepid traveler that I am, I would find a way to bypass the whole retracing-my-footsteps-back by cutting up the side of the canyon to the road above. I could see the open sky off to the right and even a house up above a concrete culvert designed to divert water into the creek (see photo, right). I would simply climb up it and pop on out to the road where it would be obvious which way was the shortest way home. Right? Ahem.

Thank god there was no one else hiking that trail that evening because I would have died from sheer embarrassment. I hiked up the culvert to the right and got stuck. I jumped across it (thinking WTF am I doing?!) and tried climbing up the left and got stuck. I was being a complete idiot. I couldn’t help but think that if I lost my footing and crashed my head on the concrete below, despite being free from embarrassment, no one would be there to save me. And my iPhone would be of no use thanks to AT&T’s wonderful reception, despite the exorbitant fees I pay them every month. No… I would die a slow and painful death, immobilized by concussion and broken bones, as possums gnawed my face off in the dark of night.

I carefully made my way down, incredibly grateful for flat ground, and decided to follow the goth kids advice. The kids are our future afterall…

The crazy thing is, I had entered some kind of time warp from Inception where each minute of time in the real world was transformed into 20 minutes of real time in this “canyon world,” because what seemed to have taken me hours on the way in, took about 6 minutes on the way out! I’m not kidding. All of a sudden, in about two blinks of an eye, I was back before the signs at the road crossing, just a short stretch from the playground. Phew, I thought.

A minute later I popped back out of the woods and walked across the grass, pass the playground & towards the pool, and I swear those parents were saying “Now, where did she come from???

3 thoughts on “Sausal Creek ~ Canyon Trail

  1. floribunda

    Funny! Hubby and I had almost the same experience a few years ago, except that we ended by scrambling up a very steep hill through blackberry, poison oak and heaven knows what else. I thought I was going to die by the time we got to the top — we came out on the Bridgeview trail (which runs from Bridgeview to Monterey) Great photos of the bridge — I cross it every day but had never seen all the graffiti underneath.

  2. David

    i just explored this area today. turns out the creek trail does come to an end after you pass by the trail and the terrain is pretty rugged (especially while carrying a heavy mountain bike). I turned back and noticed you can cross the creek and go up into the Canyon Trail which is really nice and much later takes you onto the Bridge View Trail which goes up to Montclair via Monterey Blvd. Looking on google maps I now see that once you reach Monterey there is another trail around there you can take all the way to Joaquim Miller park. Next time!

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