San Gabriel Mountains Forever

San Gabriel Wilderness

Rising steeply from the nearly level plain of the Los Angeles Basin, the rugged San Gabriel Mountains provide numerous recreational opportunities and wilderness solitude for more than 17 million Los Angelenos. This rugged mountain range, which John Muir described as “more rigidly inaccessible in the ordinary meaning of the word than any other I have attempted to penetrate” (The Mountains of California, 1894), has been my recreational backyard during my entire life. I’ve stood on the summits of all its major peaks (10, 064′ Mt. San Antonio [Mt. Baldy] more than 50 times in all seasons), explored its steep and deep canyons, and have relished in the silence of its deep Wilderness. Despite its close proximity to downtown Los Angeles, its three Wilderness areas (San Gabriel, Sheep Mountain, and Cucamonga) are largely untrailed, unvisited, and offer incredible opportunities for solitude and silence like few other metropolitan mountain ranges can. “The

West Fork San Gabriel River

Angeles National Forest is an irreplaceable natural resource that gives Los Angeles County 70% of its open space, provides 35% of the region’s drinking water, and contributes clean air to a polluted region. The forest serves as critical habitat for many endangered and sensitive plant and animal species including the Nelson’s Bighorn sheep, California condor, mountain lion, spotted owl and the mountain yellow-legged frog.”

I jumped at the opportunity when The Wilderness Society recently contacted me about photographing for this campaign (my

Yucca and Wildflowers

first assignment with them was in 2007). San Gabriel Mountains Forever is a partnership of local business owners, residents, faith and community leaders, recreation groups, health and social service organizations, and conservation groups who have come together to protect wilderness and wild and scenic rivers in the San Gabriel Mountains. Most importantly, this campaign seeks to expand the three existing Wilderness areas (San Gabriel, Sheep Mountain, and Cucamonga) and hopes to gain Federal Wild and Scenic River designation for the San Gabriel River (east, west and north forks), San Antonio Creek, and the Middle Fork of Lytle Creek.

Middle Fork, Lytle Creek

Regardless of what I think of their images, I have always been most inspired by landscape and nature photographers whose work has been used to help protect and preserve threatened and imperiled landscapes (a few names come to mind: Ansel Adams; Eliot Porter; Philip Hyde; Galen Rowell; Robert Glenn Ketchum [American Photo magazine wrote recently that RGK “may well be the most influential photographer you’ve never heard of.”]. As a fine art photographer, the primary vehicle for my work is the fine art print. I’m moved by the fact that my photographs adorn the walls of many homes and offices, yet the legacy I’d like to leave looks a lot like that of Adams, Porter, et al.

A family enjoys the North Fork of the San Gabriel River

The Wilderness Society provided me with a shoot list that would keep me busy. They’d asked only for about fifteen photographs total (I provided them with thirty-four in the end), but the locations are quite distant from one another and required that I put in a number of miles on foot, bicycle, and by car. I also needed to provide a few photographs of a family recreating on one of the creeks slated for Wild and Scenic River designation (see photo at left). Because I’ve been adventuring in the San Gabriel’s most of my life, I knew that this would be a fun yet challenging assignment. The rigid inaccessibility that slowed down John Muir would also slow me down. The San Gabriel’s are a striking range, yet the range doesn’t easily lend itself to idyllic and beautiful campaign photographs that would easily sway public opinion. I would have to work hard to create ‘iconic’ photographs in a range that has little to none. The lack of trails and vistas where I needed them to be would work me even harder.

Morning light and atmospheric haze over the Sheep Mountain Wilderness

Some of my campaign photographs have already been published in several local newspapers and used in campaign materials, including on the SGMF website. A few of my favorite photographs from this campaign are seen throughout this article. While these are less iconic images of the San Gabriel Mountains,

Morning light and atmospheric haze over Cattle Canyon and proposed additions to the Sheep Mountain Wilderness

they are images that for me best illustrate the ethereal light and mood and rugged character of the range.

WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP? Please tell Congress that you support protection of the San Gabriel Mountains! You can take easy action right on the SGMF website (they even have a sample letter with talking points that you can use). I THANK YOU in advance for helping to preserve the San Gabriel Mountains forever!

I offer my sincere THANKS to The Wilderness Society and the coalition! It’s a real honor and privilege to have my photographs used for such an important cause in my own backyard.

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

16 thoughts on “San Gabriel Mountains Forever

  1. Great blog article, as usual. BTW, have you looked at the environmental photography by the late Peter Dumbrovski? … He did some wonderful work stopping a dam building project in Tasmania a few years ago … a lot of the credit goes to his photography.

  2. Thank you, Robert! I learned of Dumbrovski only recently through Tim Parkin’s blog. I really do not know his work (little of him on this side of the pond), but anyone who can accomplish what he did with his work is AOK in my book!

    Good to see you on Twitter; thanks for the FF!

  3. Hey Michael,

    Nice work, Michael, and great job.

    I think few photographers really realize how hard it is to wander wilderness areas and find those ‘classic’ vantage points.



  4. This is a great post, Michael. I live at the foothills and have spent some time wandering the same areas and am dismayed at how much garbage and graffiti there is in the Angeles NF. Hopefully with formal protection, there will be a change in attitude and a crackdown against littering beer bottles along the East Fork and all the ATV-driving crowd mindset.

  5. Carl: Thanks, bro.

    Richard: you got it! Wild & Scenic River designation for the East Fork would mean lots of [good] changes downstream. As much as it saddens me to see the urban impact, especially in the San Gabriel canyons, I only need to remind myself how much of San Gabriel’s are untrammeled and unvisited. There’s lots of beautiful, raw, un-graffitied wilderness once you get 1/2 mile from the car.

  6. Must be exciting to be a part of that project, and what great series of images from the San Gab’s – makes me want to spend some more time in them!

    ps – I think that mystery critter I had in the sierra was a busy tailed woodrat.. when you originally suggested a woodrat the images I got from google didn’t look right, but the bushy tailed seems to fit. Glad that’s sorted out now 🙂

  7. These photographs are absolutely beautiful….There’s something about getting out in nature with the challenge of capturing some of the amazing beauty around us.

  8. Very nice article, dear. Your photographs show a nice diversity and a very welcoming sense. Can’t wait to take Mojave up there.

  9. Hi Michael, an honorable and useful assignment indeed. Your images portray this important mountain range well. I particularly like “Yucca and Wildflowers.” Without the San Gabriels, the Los Angeles area would be slim on wilderness. Every city needs good wilderness nearby. Thoreau and many others have said that the existence of wilderness is imperative for our survival.

  10. THANKS for your comments, David!

    Regarding what Thoreau and others have said about Wilderness: what Wallace Stegner wrote back in 1960 has always been most powerful to me:

    “We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.”

  11. Pingback: Recent Publications – The Wilderness Society « Michael E. Gordon Photography

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