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Along the Arroyo Seco

Oct 3, 2016
Along the Arroyo Seco

The Arroyo Seco is much more than a weird concrete channel used by local skateboarders. Although the Spanish name roughly translates to “dry stream bed,” it usually flows with several cubic feet of water per second, and occasionally swells to near capacity with the runoff of an erosion-prone 46.7 square mile watershed. It starts near Mount Wilson in the Angeles National Forest of the San Gabriel Mountains and winds its way between La Canada Flintridge and Altadena through Pasadena, alongside the western boundary of South Pas and onward into the bigger concrete confines of the Los Angeles River north of Downtown LA. The Arroyo Seco stream assists in replenishing the Raymond Basin aquifer underlying Pasadena.

The Arroyo Seco: an Urban Waterway

The Arroyo region is a fantastic microcosm of local plant and animal life — although, in my opinion, the area skunks certainly could tone down their olfactory upstaging. (My husband and I joke that we live in the Skunk Gabriel Valley.) The Arroyo Seco Foundation, created by Charles Lummis in 1905, has led the way in efforts to preserve and protect the area for future generations. The group works toward “an integrated, harmonious approach to watershed and flood management, water conservation, habitat enhancement as well as the expansion of recreational opportunities.” I’m glad we have good people like this to make sure our natural treasures aren’t completely paved over. In the last few years, they helped bring back the Arroyo chub — a native species of fish that was once plentiful in the area.

Runners along Arroyo Drive

Just above the Devil’s Gate Dam, the Arroyo stream creates falls that are particularly loud and melodious. Local mythology tells us that this rhythmic, mysterious, laughing sound is due to an ongoing competition between the taunting river and the trickster coyote. (Though I wouldn’t put it past those rambunctious skunks to have something to do with it.)

The Arroyo curves along the edge of Arroyo Drive, across from South Pasadena’s Lower Arroyo Park, right near the Skate Park and — if you look at the familiar street lamps on the left side of the photo above — next to the tunnel I showed you here.

If you want to see what life was like along the Arroyo Seco in the early 20th Century, you must get a copy of Rick Thomas’s book The Arroyo Seco from the wonderful Images of America series.  (South Pasadena’s famous Cawston Ostrich Farm was there, but did you know that from 1905-1937 the Arroyo also laid claim to Busch Gardens?  Parts of Gone With the Wind were shot in the area, too!)

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