The Arroyo (not so) Seco

During the brief interlude between storms yesterday, I went for a walk around Lincoln Heights and was thrilled to see all the water rushing down the Arroyo Seco. I’d seen the Arroyo full before but this was impressive. It’s usually just a small trickle running through a boring concrete channel. Notice too how dark and muddy the stream is, where did all that muck come from? Definitely not a time to check out the bike path.

photo courtesy of

Imagine what a beautiful stream it once was…

12 thoughts on “The Arroyo (not so) Seco

  1. When I was an Urban Planning Grad Student at Cal Poly (about 2 years ago), we did a conceptual master plan for a system of trails dubbed the “Golden Necklace ( as part of our Capstone Studio…..and I learned that some of the most concentrated rainfall EVER RECORDED in the United States has occurred in the San Gabriel Mountains. Most of their slopes are very steep and very young. As a result, soils are thin and rocky…..but somehow they think its smart to build right along its foothills.

    It annoys the sh** out of me when people say LA is a desert…this is most common by LA transplants. Jiggie please.

  2. as far as the mud ruck, vegetation, to control run- off, does not grow due to the short period of rainfall that travels down the San Gabriel mountains at so much speed/cubic yards.

  3. When my Father was a kid in the thirties he witnessed the great floods at that time. Houses and bridges were washed away like sticks and leaves. If you look at the dates on those bridges along the Arroyo Seco they all are dated 1938 or 1939, when they were rebuilt to replace the many bridges washed away in those floods.

  4. Before it was channelized, it was rarely a “beautiful stream.” Thoughout most of the year, it was a dry creek bed (hence the name); during times of rain, it was a raging, muddy, debris-filled torrent.

    Here’s how the first European observer on record described it, at the point where it joined el rio de Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles de la Porciúncula, the Los Angeles River:

    …por el nornordeste tiene un grande arroyo seco de una caja mui grande, que se conoce traherá mui crecidas avenidas y se ven en su caja algunos palos secos que traerá de la sierra, y se han encontrado en su caja piñas grandes de piñones; se han visto tambíén muchas cáscaras de nuezes. En una y otra caja se ve mucha arboleda de alizos grandes, zauzes, muchas álamos, enzinos mui grandes, y más abajo dicen vieron palos güérigos.

    –Descripción de los Dilatados Caminos, Juan Crespi, 2 August 1769.

  5. For all you monolingual Anglos out there, that would be:

    … there is a large dry creek to the north-northeast, with a very large bed showing plainly what big torrents it must carry, with dead trees visible in its bed that it must carry down from the mountains, and in its bed large pine-nut cones have been found; a great many nut shells have also been seen. A great deal of trees are visible upon the beds of both, large sycamores, willows, a great many cottonwoods, very large live oaks, and they say they saw güéribo trees farther down.

    –A Description of Distant Roads, Juan Crespi, 2 August 1769, tr. Alan K. Brown

  6. Good points vaquero, go broncos and building 9!

    The Sangra mountains are the 2nd steepest in the world (after the andes) and indeed are growing the fastest. It is due to plate tectonics causing it to push upwards, at a rate of over 2 inches a year. The geographic position of the mountains from the ocean creates the “perfect storm” for wind related erosion, further hastened by the young age and geologic composition of them as well.

    All that debris comes running down in the arroyos and into the harbor area, which is why it had to be dredged back last century. This also creates huge problems in the upper Arroyo Seco, as debris flows basically rip the shite out of everything above Altadena implemented to catch it. It would be fun to hike the trail above JPL after this storm to see how ripped the catch basins and whatnot are hit.

  7. Art, didn’t you work on the Golden Necklace project as well? I think you were part of the undergraduate team that continued it?? BTW, that CPP Conceptual plan is making its way up New Orleans to compete for the APA National Award…I’m hyped…we might just be like the Lakers and bring back the “title” to Los ANgeles/Southern California…first time in a LOOOOOOONG time. More than a decade or so.

    It bewilders me that they continue building so close to the foothills on all this research that is out there.

  8. That’s a cool pic Jeff, thanks!
    I know that floods are a concern to many but I’m sure with all the engineering skills we have these days we can come up with solutions to both retain the natural state of our rivers and streams while mitigating the dangers floods can cause. Like MetroV mentioned about the hillsides, perhaps we shouldn’t build in areas that historically flood.
    We can live in a way that is more balanced with our natural environment but it would require us to rethink the way we develop our cities and plan our neighborhoods. It’s all possible, it just takes the initiative of those with power to stop thinking about profits and more about the sustainability of the ecosystem we are all part of. And if they are not willing to take the initiative, no need to wait for them – we need to remember that real power resides within us! 😉

  9. Great historical photos. This blog’s been on a roll with these photos the past week or so. It’s been a real treat. It’s surreal how sparse the population was in these parts of Los Angeles at one time.

  10. Something I saw at an LA River meeting was putting a the flood control contraption under the freeways, which would carry the high waters, like we have been seeing. Then for the rest of the year, the water would flow in an accessible natural streambed…The Arroyo would be a great place to start!

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