Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Photo Essay: Zanja Walk Along the Arroyo Seco

Back in November, I was seduced by the lure of ruins and tunnels along the Arroyo Seco, the "dry stream" or seasonal river that runs through Pasadena.

The Arroyo Seco Foundation, which co-sponsored a hike with Pasadena Water and Power, called our excursion the "Zanja Walk," after the ditch (an early predecessor to an aqueduct) built by Benjamin Eaton to bring the water from the river to the surrounding communities.



We started our walk at the base of the Arroyo Seco canyon: in the Hahamonga Watershed Park, located between the Angeles National Forest and the Rose Bowl, near the JPL campus.



It's home to the flood basin below Devil's Gate Dam, a huge concrete barrier built in the 1920s for flood control and water conservation...



...which we got to walk across, in the path once traversed by many vehicles as the main thoroughfare between Pasadena and the neighboring community of La CaƱada Flintridge.



We peered over its railings...



...to view the diverse habitat of animal and plant life down below...



...as well as a little bit of water, and a lot of mud.



The dam overlooks the Foothill Freeway, which diverted traffic off of the dam when it opened in the 1960s.





Tunnels below the dam lead to a rough trail...



...that leads to the beginning of the old Zanja...



...which predates the dam by several decades, having been built in 1867.



At the time, it was quite a departure from its open-ditch predecessors: this ditch was a real, covered pipeline.



As we walked under the freeway...



...we passed more ruins and artifacts of the old water system, including another dam no longer in use...



...an old pump house...



...and finally, the visible, seemingly raised path of the zanja.



Between erosion and debris events, the terrain has shifted somewhat since the 1860s, but it's easy to spot the ditch's winding path, with a few old pipes sticking out of the hillside...



...a mysterious building...



...and the old stone remains of a retaining wall along what is now known as Zanja Street.



If you are very quiet and listen closely, you can even hear the rush of water - as long as the game hasn't started at the Rose Bowl yet.



The Arroyo Seco zanja made it possible for the city of Pasadena to spring up out of the original Mexican land grant of Rancho San Pascual, but it wasn't the first zanja of the greater Los Angeles area. Decades before, the Zanja Madre ("Mother Ditch"), built in 1781, brought water from the LA River to the Pueblo (in modern day LA's downtown, around Olvera Street), which is widely considered the birthplace of the City of Los Angeles.

By the 1940s, Pasadena was receiving its water from the Metropolitan Water District via the Colorado River Aqueduct.

Why call it a zanja instead of a "ditch," or even an "aqueduct" (considering its similarities)? At the time, Spanish was the predominant language in LA, spoken by all of the workers digging and building the ditch, and most of the residents of the rancho receiving its water. To English speakers, the ditch was known as "Wilson's Ditch" - named after former LA mayor and the first non-Hispanic owner of Rancho San Pascual, Benjamin Wilson, who, alongside his partner Dr. John Griffin, commissioned Eaton to build the zanja. Among Wilson's other feats was the first recorded exploration of the mountain which was to be named after him, Mt. Wilson. Much of his original trail (based on an established Native American route) eventually became the Mt. Wilson Toll Road.

Like many relics throughout the Los Angeles metropolitan area, you can find remains of the zanja along its original path if you know where to look, though what exactly lies beneath the surface is a mystery.

Related Posts:
Feeling a Little Unstable
Ossining Weir Chamber & Old Croton Aqueduct, Part I

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