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The Arroyo Not So Seco

The columnist tracks the path of one of Highland Park's most important historical natural resources, the Arroyo Seco.

Highland Park, like every great city of the world, was built adjacent to a source of water. The Arroyo Seco is such a source.

It may be seco (or, dry) now, but this was once one of two main sources of water for the city of Los Angeles, and still could be.

But where does this water come from?

To see the source of the Arroyo Seco yourself, you will have to go up into the mountains, behind Mt. Wilson. Unfortunately, Angeles Crest Highway is closed. You can get back there by going to Highway 14, towards Palmdale, and then taking N3 toward Mt. Wilson. 

The official source or headwaters of the Arroyo Seco is Bear Canyon.  This canyon, while not far away, is only accessible by hiking.  If you aren’t a big hiker, a great place to see where the waters for the arroyo start is Switzer Falls, which is a good hike for the casual hiker. The falls are falling most of the year, so please go and enjoy this wonderful bit of nature not too far from where you are right now, as the crow flies. You’ll have to drive, but what’s time and gas when you will see beauty and history.  

This is in the Angeles National Forest where you'll need a parking/hiking pass. That link will show you a map of where the canyon and the falls are as well as other helpful information.

You’ll also see on the map that you can drive to Mt. Wilson, where the big TV broadcast antennas are, and you can get a great view of the arroyo, San Gabriel Valley, most of L.A. and on a clear day Catalina Island.  On an extremely clear day, you'll be able to spot Santa Barbara Island. Also, up on Mt. Wilson is the historic telescope where Hubble figured out the shape of the universe.

The waters of the arroyo come down from the mountains along the same canyon as Highway 2, the Crest Highway, and you can see it most of the way down.

While it is called the Arroyo Seco, seco being a Spanish word for dry, in this mountain section, the water flows most of the year in most years.  

Right about where you would lose site of it, the Arroyo Seco meets up with a few other creeks in what is called the upper mountain watershed, on this side of the San Gabriel Mountains. This area is known the Hahamongna Watershed.

Hahamongna, like topanga, cucamonga, pacoima, cahuenga, and some say azusa, are all Tongva words, the language of the first people in our neighborhood.

Here the arroyo meets other waters and spreads into what is called an alluvial plain, a geological formation that is said to be rare in California.

Sand gravel and other goodies brought down from the mountain by the arroyo waters leave a wonderful place for animals and plants to grow and frolic.

To give you an idea of the amount of water that once flowed through the area, there are reports of the Tongva fishing for steelhead trout and even salmon in these waters.  If anyone has information about that bit of history, please leave it in the comment area below. 

In 1920 the Devil’s Gate Dam was built, which helped control the flooding and provide for the water for consumption by the surrounding communities.  

Traveling down the arroyo brings us to Brookside Golf Course, the Rose Bowl, and the other facilities that wouldn’t have been able to be built without the Devil’s Gate Dam and the paving of the Arroyo Seco.

Just past the Colorado Blvd. Bridge the arroyo narrows, and a walk, bike ride, or drive will show you beautiful rock formations carved by the waters.

Once those rocks open up, there are many water sources and aquatic features that are interesting.

At 433 Arroyo Dr. in South Pasadena is the home of Don Manuel Garfias, the last Mexican land grant holder in these parts.  He built his place by springs that also served as water for a Tongva village.

Here in Highland Park, north of Meridian St. where Milwaukee and Springvale Dr. almost meet, were a couple springs that were the sources of a creek called the North Branch of the Arroyo Seco. This creek then basically went down Aldama St. to meet with the arroyo near .

Behind Burbank Middle School, you’ll find Garvanza Park. Here was a major spring, and the present home of the Highland Reservoir.  I’ve read that it is the oldest reservoir in the city. It was declared an Historic Cultural Monument in 1989. If you have information when it was built, please leave that information in the comment area below.  I wonder if the spring still provides water for the reservoir.

On the east side of the Arroyo near York Blvd. and Pasadena Avenue, near the equestrian stables, was the Arroyo Verde Springs

Indian Head Springs near the corner of York and Eagle Rock Blvd. are still going strong, and if you buy Sparkletts water, you are drinking from that well. 

Yosemite Springs were/are at 226 S. Ave. 54, and were used until recently by the Yosemite Waters bottling company. If you drank Yosemite Water, you were drinking Highland Park water. The plant was recently bought by Sparkletts, and in that grand capitalist tradition, they closed it down.

Near Figueroa and Sycamore Terrace, across from Sycamore Grove Park, was a spring that was home to the White Rock or Rose Spring Water bottling company.

At 4605 Figueroa was the Casa de Adobe Springs, which bottled water in 1915.

Then the arroyo flows to the Los Angeles River, then out to sea. 

Ricardo March 17, 2011 at 07:44 PM
Love that you are teaching us about our beautiful neighborhood. I would like to offer to submit an article on the cultural life of this part of the world. I have lived and taught here for more than twenty-five years. Can you address the issue of the restoration of the Arroyo and what plants and animals are natives to the Arroyo, e.g. the beautiful dove/pigeon that is indigenous in the region that can be seen bathing and feeding on the river's edge. I have seen the flocks and they like to go to the horse stables in the Arroyo Seco Park near York Blvd, near where I live. Thank you. Ricardo Reyes www.ricardoreyesarte.net
David O'Roscoe March 18, 2011 at 05:47 AM
Hey Ricardo, I'm not sure about submitting an article, but please feel free to add or comment on any of the articles you find on Patch. I do have an article in the works on indigenous flora and fauna, and you will see it here soon. There is so much to know about our history, and our ecosystems, and our cultures. Please share what you know with us.
Kim Axelrod Ohanneson March 18, 2011 at 06:24 AM
Great article as usual, David. Thanks.
Tina Gulotta-Miller March 18, 2011 at 03:40 PM
Charles Fisher is our local historian who wrote the nomination of the Garvanza Reservoir. He also features it in his book "Garvanza" and also wrote one on " Highland Park". There are pictures of the reservoir in the books. Visit the LA River Center for more information about watersheds. The Garvanza Park has the Storm Water Management Project being constructed inside it. Two large basins will filter water from runoff. One basin will release back to the aquifers and the other basin will store the water which will be potable water fir usage. I live here in Garvanza and love it here. I was responsible for the historic district expansion into Garvanza.
David O'Roscoe March 18, 2011 at 04:12 PM
Thank you Tina!! Does the old spring at that location feed this reservoir?
David O'Roscoe March 21, 2011 at 03:05 AM
Tina, Saw the "Garvanza" book at READ Books in Eagle Rock. And saw your smiling face, as well as the reservoir when it was built. Thanks for recommending the reference.
Worker April 01, 2011 at 09:25 PM
Mr. O'Roscoe, the directions in this article to Mt. Wilson are a little off. You can reach Mt. Wilson from the Antelope Valley by taking SR-14 to the Angeles Forest Highway (N3) then turn left when you reach the Angeles Crest Highway (SR-2). You will reach Mt. Wilson Rd./Red Box Rd. in just a few miles.
David O'Roscoe April 01, 2011 at 09:43 PM
Thanks Mr. Worker. You can also go through Sunland and take Lower Big Tujunga to Mt Wilson, I've been told.

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