Velo course: Monroe Truck Trail, No Frills...

Last week I wanted something different, for my weekly mtb ride, than the usual Bonelli Park or Marshall Canyon trails. I looked back through this blog, as well as the Claremont Cyclist, and realized that I have never done any kind of write-up for the Monroe Truck Trail (MTT). This also means that I have not ridden its dirt in more than four years, at the least. That settled it, not only was I going to ride the MTT, but I was going to add it to the Velo course.

"The Monroe Truck Trail was first used in the early 1920s when a deposit of metal used for hardening steel was discovered by Owen Cullen in Little Dalton Canyon. A mine, several dwellings, and a mill for processing the ore were located in the vicinity. During the depression years, the MTT was improved and became a Forest Service fire road." - William B. Cullen, 1995.

Other than along the upper portion of this route, that Forest Service fire road has long since disappeared, giving way to the onslaught of flood and other erosive forces, and natural reclamation. What we are left with today is one of the finer examples of single track trail in the local frontage of the San Gabriel Mountains. Allowing nature to reclaim this old road has led to a trail that is fun to ride whichever direction you are heading.

For purposes of description, Monroe Truck Trail can be divided into three non-equal sections. The lower, opening portion of trail follows up the bottom of Little Dalton Canyon - it is rockier, shadier, crossing in and out of the course of a perennial streambed. Normally dry during the summer and autumn months, it will carry water during wetter times of the year. You whip past thick stands of willow, interspersed with oaks and other usual large, canyon dwelling tree species. At a bend in the trail where a side canyon comes down from the left, and just before the end of this first section of canyon bottom trail you reach what, I assume, must be the remains of those mining operations mentioned above. You will notice the tumble down water tank first, but if you take a few minutes to trod the little side trail at this point, you will come to some concrete and steel remains. At first I thought these might be all that is left of a water gauging station, but then noticed, a little further along, the dark maw of a tunnel or cave. Walking up to it I saw a cot and other items strewn about just inside and so decided against exploring any more. Bummer, I would like to spend a little more time traipsing the area to find what else may still be around.

Scrambling back to the bike, which I had left just down below on the trail, I pedaled on reaching the end point of the canyon-bottom portion of trail in no time. Here the trail makes a near 180º turn to the right and begins its rise away from the canyon bed. From here the trail rises at a gradual but steady pace. There is some tree cover at first, but they fall away the more you gain in elevation; eventually they only grow where the trail swings into and out of little side canyons. There used to be this one deeply eroded gully cutting across the trail as if a giant had swung an axe into the mountainside leaving a deep, sharp gash; enough of an obstacle that I would dismount to get across. That cleave seemed a little less severe on my most recent passing, but I still walked my way across. Hillside shrubs, buckwheat in particular, but also monkeyflower, poison oak, chamise, sage, and various other sage and chaparral habitat species crowded in against the trail - good luck avoiding them all.

Before too long you reach a point in the trail from which branch-trails into Mystic Canyon descend. For that reason I call this overlook Mystic Pointe, and not only are there views of the trails sweeping away, but down into the distant valley as well. Unless you are turning off here, the MTT continues up and around the bend. You may realize a subtle difference taking shape in the trail as you proceed beyond the Pointe - erosion has created a distinct 'V' in its surface. This creates a little extra challenge as you find yourself riding on one sloped surface or another. It is not a deep "V" so it is really not difficult, but you will probably brush up against the shrubs more often as you bounce from one side of the trail to the other.

There is very little shade beyond Mystic Pointe, and during the summer, the sun can really beat down. At one point along the way I stopped at an overlook with a long view down Little Dalton Canyon; beyond that, the city was spread across the vast plain like some monstrous child's Lego creation. Views like this open up periodically along much of the trail, so I had become used to them; what was of more interest this time were the waves of visible heat I noticed flowing across the trail as I bowed my head to its weight and my eyes swept the ground. From an early age we children of southern California get used to seeing those heat mirages rippling across the edges of asphalt playgrounds at our local schools. To see the same literally right at my feet was a bit disconcerting - "just how hot is it?"

Both the bottom (BoM) of Monroe and the top (ToM) intersect with Glendora Mountain Road, and that paved route into the mountains is rarely out of view as it rises along the other (west) side of Little Dalton Canyon. From this perspective it looks like such an easy grade, and in comparison to the dirt trail, I would have to say it probably is. As you get closer to the top there are a few spots where the trail pitches up at a steeper grade, nothing unbearable, nothing long, just enough to notice. While most of the trail is narrow single track, when you get to the final mile or two it distinctly widens, and you may even notice some remnant patches of asphalt. This upper part of trail is the third distinct section, resembling an overgrown fire road; the views also shift from the canyon and valley down and behind you, to the high peaks further north. The route up here borders the San Dimas Experimental Forest to your right, and you look down into its canyons, along its ridges, and can wonder at the experiments taking place - Treebeards, weresquirrels, and other fantastical things.  Eventually you will reach the gate at the ToM and can look forward to the upcoming descent back the way you came. If you kept your eyes open during the climb you may have noticed a couple ridge routes paralleling the main trail; it would have been foolish to attempt to climb these, but they are clearly popular alternatives heading back down. I stick to the main trail myself, hence the "No Frills" in the title of this Velo course.

The Monroe Truck Trail is a diverse route with touches of many different trail conditions. The trail is a popular one, and is especially suitable for intermediate to expert riders. Admittedly though, I saw only one other person the entire ride, this latest time up. However since there is very little of a technical challenge, novice riders may want to give it a try. Mileage came out at 14.06 miles round trip, with 2444 feet of elevation gain and, since this is an out and back ride, I believe all but 200 feet of that are gained during the outward-bound, climbing leg.

opening stretch of trail, nice flow

some stretches of rock and stream crossings

concrete mining remains with tunnel opening at upper left

more remains with collapsed water tank

nice and smooth, with buckwheat still in flower

Mystic Pointe with trail descending to Mystic Canyon

nice flow

do not attempt to adjust your screen - I was not attempting to focus on the thistle, but rather the great mass of poison oak covering this portion of mountainside

MTT and GMR with the city spread out below

a little bit of shade, and Baldy comes into view

a lot of sun exposure, so it can get hot

resting at the top

mountainsides, canyons and ridges