I hiked the trail to the Blue Ridge Campground early Saturday morning May 7, 2011. This place is located on the northeastern slope of the San Gabriel Mountains (see the photo I took with my iPhone at the trailhead with still snow-capped Mount Baldy in the background). I decided to hike up there because a couple of weeks earlier I had read online on one of the local birding forums that some evening grosbeaks had been seen there. Evening grosbeaks are large, handsomely colored finches that are uncommonly and erratically found in the mountains here. Since I had never had opportunity to see this species I thought it might be fun to look for them.
The trail starts at an elevation of around 7,000 feet and ascends about 1,000 feet over 3 miles up a fire road to the campground. It goes further into the mountains, but I only went as far as the campground which was unoccupied on the day I visited. The trail was closed to vehicles when I hiked it, but I think at times it is open to vehicular traffic though if you drove it you would probably need a truck or SUV. Anyway, the first weekend of May was an excellent time to do this hike. The temperature was pleasant, and to my surprise I didn’t even need to wear a sweater. The snow was mostly gone with only a few isolated patches remaining. Ski season had ended a couple of weeks earlier, and it was a little bit eerie hiking past abandoned ski lifts sitting over barren hills. At the same time, it was still too early for the summer crowds. It was very quiet, which made for excellent birdwatching conditions. I loved that I encountered few people during my hike. There was an old Korean couple that I found to be quite nice, however. The guy noticed my Canon camera and talked to me a bit about the many Canons that he had owned. I would pass them by because though fit they were old and couldn’t go as fast as me, but on occasion they would catch up to me as I would often stop to pursue a bird along the way. It was nice that the couple would wait for me to finish taking pictures before moving ahead of me.
By the way, I of course did find and get decent photographs of the evening grosbeaks that had motivated my trip (stay tuned for an update under my “photograph birds” goal in the near future, if anyone is interested). In total, I saw 23 species of birds, which is not bad for the mountains at this time of year.