TRAILBEAR ON THE LOWER UPPER SANTA ANA RIVER TRAIL – Take a Ride on the Wild Side
Tired of riding up and down those concrete ditches called rivers in Southern California? Want to ride along a real river with water and trees and green things? TrailBear does. The sheer novelty of it… Having created the TrailLink map for the Upper Santa Ana River Trail, he needs to get out to Riverside and put some facilities icons on it. Besides, the few pix on the page suggested an interesting ride and good pavement.
THE UPPER “SART” – SANTA ANA RIVER TRAIL
What a change! Imagine a river in a river bed rather than a concrete channel. Yes, the river bed does have levees, but the river is free to wander between them. There is a lush riparian community of trees and shrubs running for miles. The Santa Ana River runs clear. There are kids swimming in it. There are vistas. There are meadows filled with spring flowers and stands of trees and thick brush.
In short, this is not at all like the lower Santa Ana River, the L.A. River, the San Gabriel River, the San Juan Creek, Aliso Creek, San Diego Creek, Bellona Creek, Peters Canyon Wash, Coyote Creek and quite a few others down in The OC and LA County. The Corps of Engineers did not have its way.
The lower Upper SART is a ride worth doing. Thank Marsh McLean for that. In the ‘60s she and others stopped the Corps of Engineers from fitting the upper river into a nice concrete channel.
This would be a great ride in the winter, just after a storm when the mountains are out and covered in snow and the “seeing” is good. TB knows there are mountains out here. He can read a map. He even saw them, once. There was that winter’s day when he could see everything out here. Today there is a bit of fog grading into haze. You can see two sets of hills over. Not too bad.
TRAILBEAR TRIES FAIRMOUNT PARK…
So, here we go again. Another Saturday: some clouds and nicely cool. This time the TrailBear is bouncing over the wretched freeways and pot holed streets of Riverside, CA, on his way to Fairmount Park. The mission is to do a facilities survey on the lower half of the Upper SART. A survey on the upper half of the Upper SART appears to be a loser. Neither Google Earth or the road maps show any parks or such along the trail beyond Fairmount Park. Better bring everything you need for that stretch.
TB has a Cunning Plan: He will trailhead in Fairmount Park, ride down the river to the trail end at Hidden Valley Wildlife Area, about face and ride back up with the rising up-river breeze at his back. A cunning plan – which lasted until he reached the park.
“Between the idea / And the reality / Between the motion / And the act
Falls the Shadow” T.S. Eliot – The Hollow Men
The first sight was a bus load of Work Release prisoners lined up to get the word on what to do in the park. Dear Wife began to mutter. Strike One. Then there was the grouping of folks over there about that picnic table. You could see a few bikes, but we are not talking roadies in their Suits of Light. Rather, denizens of the Lower Demographic - those who wear heavy coats on hot days. More were coming and more. From the East, from the West, from the streets and the trails, they were headed for that table. Must be the Breakfast Club at Fairmount. Strike Two.
Well, check out the restrooms and get a data point or two. Restrooms locked. Strike Three. Farewell, Fairmount. We head off to check out the other trailhead options, looking for a lot more ambiance. The Anza Narrows Park is locked. At 0730? Not early risers hereabouts. Besides, that booth up the entrance road suggests the collection of fees. We wind up the Hidden Valley Wildlife Area over by Norco. It’s rather nice. There are people about. There are roadies riding. There are horsemen horsing. There is a group taking a tour. Far away from downtown, the demographic vibrations are more comfortable here. It becomes the Trailhead du Jour.
HIDDEN VALLEY WILDLIFE AREA, 705’ Elevation, GE: N33.96170 W117.49856
You have to like Hidden Valley. The roads are dirt, but the bike trail is 5* blacktop – very smooth. The lanes are about 5’ wide with a center stripe. The Upper Santa Ana River Trail starts out at the front entrance at Arlington Ave and runs thru the park. HVWA has both bottom lands down by the river and uplands. There are lots of dirt trails – suggesting a fun time with a mountain bike.
The Nature Center and the shops are located on the edge of the bluff above the river with excellent views. There are a number of observation points with informational signage. There is a day use fee of $ 4, but they are not set up to take cash, issue chits, etc. They would like a check for $4 dropped in the Iron Ranger on the honor system.
Water may be an issue here as all the restrooms were PortaPotty Pitstops (PPPS) and no fountains were seen. May be there – but well concealed. Best you bring your own.
There is a new bike trail head and overlook at N33.96103 W117.49522, about 0.2 miles beyond the Nature Center parking lot and the park shops.
The trail runs along the bluff, along side a bridle trail. Here and there they have placed a bench overlooking the view. TB likes that one under the shade tree. There is a lot of horse action here and many trails for riding, so the sites feature bike racks and hitching rails. The adjacent town of Norco is Western-themed and has bridle trails running along the main drag and other streets. One senses that Norco does a lot of horse business.
JURUPA AVE. ACCESS POINT, 746’, GE: N33.96003 W117.48091
The trail runs along the bluff to meet an access point at the end of Jurupa Ave at the end of the park. There is on-street parking there, signed for The River Trail. Here the trail takes a dive down towards the river under a bluff filled with homes and crosses a grassy parcel called the Agricultural Park (no facilities). It appears to be the former home of a sewage plant and Has Some Issues. Can you say “PCB”?
Climb back up the other side and around the bluff to enter what TB calls the Van Buren Diversion. Here you make a dogleg detour to get across a ravine. Pause where the trail meets the unfinished portion of Jurupa Ave. Across Jurupa is Rutland Park. It’s a neighborhood park with water, no restrooms. In the distance is Mt. Rubidoux.
Ahead is the Diversion. You drop down, then run along Van Buren, duck under it and come up on the other side to enter the Sewage Plant Reach – a 0.7 mile stretch of tanks and ponds on one side and the river bottom lands on the other. Chain link fencing keeps you on the straight and narrow.
Once past the “wastewater treatment plant” (catch a whiff), you enter Pipe Reach. The trail crosses under two pipes crossing the river. The first is Just a Little Thing. The next is anything but. It runs over a series of pylons and then onto a bridge over the river. Size? Guesstimate is 6’ or better in height. Another mile and there is…
THE SANTA ANA RIVER VIADUCT (UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD BRIDGE), GE: N33.96790 W117.43551
The rail road crosses the river here at the Anza Narrows on this classic concrete arch bridge. Dear Wife says it looks like every bridge in Cleveland. Built in 1904, it once held the record as the “largest concrete bridge on earth.” Read about it at:
That was then. This is now – 106 years later – and the trains are still crossing those eight arches. Their foundations sit on granite bedrock, 10 -50’ below river level. Stop for a few pix, then round the corner and head uphill to the…
MARSHA McLEAN – ANAZA NARROWS REGIONAL PARK, 738’, GE: N33.96727 W117.43230
The river has been doing some cutting here. Notice the sidewalk which runs to the edge of the bluff. Where did the rest go? A former overlook, perhaps. No matter. Up the trail there is a nice shade tree with a bench under it and a view of Mt. Rubidoux in the distance. Great place to take a break.
Down the trail a bit is a water fountain (first one seen on the trail, so fill up) and a curious pair of roofless restrooms. They are flushies without roofs. There are lips over the loos, but the rest is open to the cyclone wire above. TB has been all over the West since age 10, but this is a new design for him. What do you do in a downpour? The next flushies are way up in Fairmount Park, so perhaps…
Up at the corner of the park, you enter a 1.1 mile stretch of Horse County. Stables, rings, pastures, trails and All Things Horsey. There are the thickets of the river bottoms on one side and chain link and barbed wire on the other and the smell of stables on the wind.
Beyond this is a stretch of embankment running along the trail. What is it? GE shows something like a pond or settling ground. However, there are none of the channel works that go with a settling ground. The thing has chain line and barbed wire to keep you from finding out. At the far end is the …
TESQUESQUITO AVE. ACCESS, 761’, GE: N33.97620 W117.39661
The end of Tesquesquito Ave. is blocked off where the trail turns left to run along the base of Mt. Rubidoux. Some nice homes up there on the slope. Across the street are the meadows of the undeveloped Tesquesquito Arroyo Park. You can park on the street for access at this point, but there are better spots ahead. Pause here and look up. You saw it from miles away. Now it’s looming over you …
MT. RUBIDOUX PARK, 1329’, GE: 33.984386°
Quite the granite hill. There are miles of paved and dirt trails leading to the summit, so you can pick your pain. TrailBear is going around it on the river side. Some great meadows down on the southern end of the hill. At the northern end of Rubidoux is something unusual …
THE CARLSON BARK PARK, 786’, GE: N33.98968 W117.39151
It’s always a delight to find something new on a trail. Here it is – the bark park. Alongside Mission Blvd. at the bridge is an elegant dog park done in a Mission style with massive gates, metal fencing with cutouts of dogs at play, night lighting, play areas for puppies, little dogs and big dogs and a three level water fountain. It would look very much “in place” in the flossy suburbs of The O.C. Dream on, Newport Beach.
There are some interesting design ideas at the park. Take the play area “air locks.” You open the gate; Rover makes a break for freedom. Not here. You open the gate into an enclosure. Shut the gate; collar Rover; then open the second gate. The water fountain here is inside the Little Dogs Park, together with shade trees and a picnic table. No restrooms, however.
The Bark Park is doing a lot of trailhead business from the bikies and the hikers. There are people all over the switchbacks above and bikes arriving some somewhere. Mountain bikes … mountain. Probably been up on the slopes. Google Earth shows trails and a wide rutted swath coming straight down the mountain. Screaming descents, perhaps? But enough of dog parks in the Mission style. Back on the bike and head for…
FAIRMOUNT PARK, 789’, GE: N33.99395 W117.38115
The trail ducks under Mission Blvd. On the far side is a junction. Straight ahead takes you to the trail end at Waterman Blvd., about 8 miles upstream. TB turns right to run down into Fairmount Park.
Designed by Fredrick Law Olmstead (Think: Central Park, New York City.), the park offers two lakes shaded with trees, a band shell, rose gardens, a boat house, tennis courts, tot lot, picnic areas, a golf course and numerous paths to explore.
It’s an elegant park from the old school. The shady lakes must be a delight in summer’s heat, but today the park probably would have baseball diamonds and soccer fields instead. The diverse urban demographic is still here at late morning. The benches beneath the trees along Lake Evans are a great place to relax. Over there one citizen is doing just that. Head pillowed on his pack, covered with a quilt, he sleeps the morning away.
This is the upper end of the survey. Lunch is at the other end. TB turns the bike around and head back down the river to Hidden Valley. As expected, the breeze is on the make, coming up the river. No matter; pedal harder.
SUMMARY OF THE RIDE…
Trail bed = 3-5*. Mostly 5* pavement. Some areas of cracks (small) and a few sink holes, but there are miles of good, smooth blacktop.
Facilities = 2-3*. Portapotties at Hidden Valley Clean restrooms done in the prison style – no doors on the stalls at Fairmount and Anza Narrows. No doors = 2*, no matter how clean. Water fountains at Anza and Bark Park. No fountains were seen at Fairmount. They must be there, somewhere, but none were seen down at the lakes.
Scenery = 5*. If you are used to the concrete river rides, this will be a delightful change of pace. It’s a very green ride – meadows, river bottom groves, overgrown thickets, a river with a sandy bottom running clear, distant views. (Better in winter when the mountains are out.)
Distance: About 10 miles one way.
Do it again? Yes. It's on the winter schedule, waiting for a storm to blow thru.
Putting the icons on the map.