A view of Fish Canyon immediately behind the Azusa Rock mining operation.
I stood on the catwalk of the giant rock crusher and was shaken.
As the bulldozers working the west side of Fish Canyon of Azusa Rock — a working mine located in San Gabriel Canyon — emptied their loads, the large boulders quickly made their way into the pulverizing machinery. There, from my perch on the metal framework, I could feel the platform shaking as the machine did its thing. I turned to the right and followed the crushed rocks as they continued their journey across a conveyer belt, through a water mister to keep the dust down, and down hundreds of feet to the canyon bottom, where conveyers picked up the material on its way to becoming asphalt and concrete.
During the tour, the people of the parent company, Vulcan Materials, explained how they would like to shift some operations 80 acres to the west, more toward Duarte. They would then “restore” the eastern mined portion and process the western portion with smaller, “microbenches” that allow natural plants to grow and cover the damage.
The folks even created a test microbench using GPS and advanced engineering, a real-life demo which shows the mining operation is going to great lengths to better camouflage what’s left of the slope once the digging and scraping is done.
Whether that actually happens remains to be seen. The group is going through a permit process with the city of Azusa, and is facing opposition from Duarte residents and possibly from Duarte City Hall.
All this was very impressive. But what really shook me to my core was my first glimpse of the hidden canyon that lay behind the mining operation — Fish Canyon.
With time running out and with no chance of having the time to take the 1 1/2 hour hike to Fish Canyon Falls from the back-of-the-mine trailhead, I asked to go there, anyway.
The view from the footbridge was of a grandiose canyon, draped in alders and dappled in sunlight. I ran about 100 yards in and saw the twisting path between the canyon walls disappear.
Even this fleeting glimpse was enough to shake me. It left me wanting more.
But throughout the tour of the mine, I secretly tried to envision in my mind’s eye what it would be like if it wasn’t there, if just the canyon and the river were exposed in their natural states. You know, like the day “The Flintstones” got cancelled.
I had been watching Ken Burns’ documentary on the national parks and my mind must’ve been playing and replaying those sepia-toned slides of Yosemite over and over. I could hear the eloquent words of naturalist John Muir, who spoke of California’s natural canyons and rock formations as majestic cathedrals given to mankind by God.
Our San Gabriels — though not a national park — are part of a national forest and are indeed a gift to us who live here. It’s our job to protect them. But recently, they’ve been damaged by a couple of arsonists whose sick acts have turned back the hand of God if only for a moment.
The fires, the mining and commercial components surrounding our mountains and rivers are reminders how we come close to losing this gift. That must never happen. They must be more than just memories or old pictures in a documentary.
I was told the mining company shuttles people to the back trailhead upon request. And I vow to be there on the next cool Saturday.