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Barley Flats and the Art of Benchmark Maintenance

By no means could I be considered a Zen practitioner. But if I were, I'd title my first book, Barley Flats: A Good Place To Be Zen. First and foremost, Barley Flats is a former Nike Missile site, so that, right there, is a fascinating topic to ponder while sitting cross-legged on an abandoned launch pad. For example, if this earthly realm is merely a product of our imagination, then perhaps I'm actually a big rocket. Maybe I can ruminate with so much power and mental expansion that I'll suddenly blast off into space!

Let's try it...

I woke up early on Labor Day Monday, not to recite mantras, but to drive up the Angeles Crest Highway. On my bucket list happened to be Barley Flats, along with a couple roadside benchmarks. Around sunrise I flopped out of my car into the chilly 50-degree mountain air. Having exited the marine layer around Los Angeles, the atmosphere above Upper Big Tujunga was simply gorgeous, despite a small wildfire brewing in the distance near Pleasant View Ridge.

The Barley Flats Road gate invited walkers and riders, but no motor vehicles.

The road itself was wide and clear, with old, cracking pavement, whose edges were sometimes lined with poodle dog bushes, chainsawed tree trunks, power lines, guardrails, and various posts and signs. It was a perfect place to practice some walking meditation.

The faded, yellow center line could still be seen along some stretches of the road. It made me think about how people, even Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, need a center line to follow. Stray too far to the right or left, and you're likely to accept a face full of poison flowers.

Maybe you'll get lucky and only stumble over stacks of charred wood. But be very careful that you don't blindly miss the guardrail and drop off the cliffside.

Ah, only 0.3 miles up the road, and it was already time to search for a benchmark.

That is the view of the spot where I left the road. The red circle indicates a power line pole, beside which a benchmark awaits seekers. In between the road and pole much brush requires pushing aside.

The DOT benchmark sat in a square, concrete monument. It was stamped "MT WILSON E 4" and dated 1978.

Considering the name of the mark, my Zen imagination figured that this spot was used to measure the height of Mt. Wilson, seen directly across the canyon. It was a fine enough view, but one that I'll leave to the reader's own Zen imagination.

Back on the open road, I pushed another 1.8 miles, to the west side of Peak 5499', allegedly (according to the USGS Topo) home to the Thorn Benchmark.

It took some searching, but I detected a faint deer path through some initially thick brush. The trail then led me up the west slope, gaining 120 feet to the summit.

The top offered nice views all around, including the small grove of pines at nearby Barley Flats. A few small trees of its own provided spaces to sit, relax, and enjoy a snack. In plain view all I found were a small cairn and a toppled triangular sign.

I leaned the sign against one of the trees and began an earnest search for the benchmark. Having done this before on other obscure peaks, and having learned a few tricks, I thoroughly investigated under boulders and peered into bushes. But after fifteen minutes of frustration, I asked myself, "What would Buddha do?" I supposed that he'd sit on his lazy ass and dream up some nonsense, which could be relaxing, but certainly wouldn't be helpful. Then, just to be fair to other religious figureheads, I asked, "What would Jesus do?" Hmm, I guessed that he'd probably turn the other cheek, but what would that accomplish? Finally I prayed to Satan, who suggested that I eat some fruit.

Twenty minutes of this, and I was nearly ready to call it quits. Not only on benchmark hunting, but on life in general. Then there was something. Something among a pile of old branches, slightly off the edge of the summit. It was a small concrete pillar, resting peacefully, half-buried in the dirt.

And what was that on one end of it?

It appeared that one of my many spiritual appeals had actually worked. But which fantastic god had answered the inquiry? Perhaps I'll never know. And like G.I. Joe says, "Not knowing is half the battle."

The next ten minutes involved little rumination and more physical exertion, as I struggled to extract the heavy monument from nature's embrace, carefully push it end-over-end up the slope, and ultimately set it upright next to a tree on the summit.

(Triangular sign leans against first tree, while the Thorn benchmark pillar stands aside the third.)

Feeling now like I achieved my purpose for the day, a visit to Barley Flats would serve as mere bonus points. At the entrance gate a curious deer stood watch.

No doubt she had been deep into her own meditations before my arrival, most certainly daydreaming of a strong, handsome buck who'll come and protect her from nasty lions. Instead she got me.

Now bothered--and disappointed--the deer strolled out of my way. She crossed the old, overgrown launch pad, which stupidly I failed to picturize. There wasn't much to it, though, a flat, open space with some slabs, I think.

I did, however, take several photos of the Barley Flats water tanks and revegetation project.

I made my way to the west end of the Flats and scrambled up a little rise to the gigantic tank.

On one side an open stairway climbed up the tank's outer hull.

From the roof, I had a great overview of Barley Flats.

To the south was Mt. Wilson.

To the west, Strawberry. And the north, Pacifico Mountain.

Done with the water tanks, the benchmarks, the launch pad, and the whole paved road ascent, I at last sat upon the bare ground like Buddha and considered Mother Nature's beautiful morning. The sun shined brightly. The blue sky encircled the mountain range. Little flowers adorned the ground. Bees buzzed and birds were flying. The temperature had warmed, so I removed my cap and listened intently to the sweat evaporating off my head.

Little did I realize that a countdown had begun. Someone was about to be rocketed into the stratosphere.

Nice report! Were you at all surprised that all the benchmarks were still there?

dima wrote:
Nice report! Were you at all surprised that all the benchmarks were still there?

Maybe a little surprised to find Thorn, considering the benchmark's age and fire damage in that area. Also, I don't think it's an active triangulation station anymore, and probably hasn't been visited by surveyors for over half a century. I suspect fire crews dislodged or moved it out of the way some time ago, as it was literally half-buried among firebreak debris. Due to the disk being buried for so long, its surface and stamps from 1945 are in remarkable, pristine condition. It's one of the nicest benchmarks I've seen. And you also get to see the entire concrete monument, which is usually buried neck-deep in the ground.

I fully expected to find the other benchmark, Mt Wilson E 4, as it's an active location and appears in my Garmin database of current marks. However, once I got to the area, and saw how overgrown it was, my confidence wavered a bit. Then, with some luck, I stepped right alongside it on the first try, since it was near the electrical pole.

Always love your trip reports, Sean, whether death marches, explorations or urban outings...

Especially glad you posted this one...I've long thought about bushwhacking up that bump to look for THORN...and wouldn't have found it...thanks for finding and restoring it...

If you can come up with an excuse to climb lowly Vetter, you can add DOT benchmark MT WILSON J 1 1978 (and a couple of associated reference marks) to your collection...they're on some big flat rocks just east of Vetter's bushwhacking required...

(a year younger than THORN...and it's in better condition!)

That's cool that you could walk up to the top of that tank.  I haven't thought of Barley Flats in years.  I remember driving that road to the top, out of curiosity, sometime in the late '80s/early'90s, and there was a camp in operation up there for juvenile delinquents, run by the CDE.  Camp Barley Flats, I think it was called.  I've no idea when it closed.

Thanks, Old Coot. I'm happy to share my adventures. Let me know (through personal message) if there are any other spots you thought about visiting and didn't reach. Maybe I can incorporate them into future hikes. Also, I've been to Vetter and saw the marks you mentioned. Thanks. The station and two reference disks still existed as of April 2015.

Enrique, it looks like the probation camp ended in 1992. Though Barley Flats is still used as a Sheriff's air station. The side road to the Admin building and heliport is gated and signed "No Trespassing." Tom Chester's website has some additional information.

Sean wrote:
The side road to the Admin building and heliport is gated and signed "No Trespassing."

If you approach from the West, it doesn't say "No Trespassing", but they still yell at you Smile

Another great adventure. I'm sure that putting things back near their rightful place earns you some hiker karma. The meditation helps with that too.

That was a great trip! If I had a shovel, and digging robot, I would send both up to bury Thorn BM back in the ground. It was a nice find and recovery. Forum Index -> San Gabriels
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