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Narrows View

January 8, 2011

Rain's toll

Our first-Sunday of 2011 outing was to check out the Martha Mclean-Anza Narrows Park along the Santa Ana River, in Riverside. I see the park every work day, as my train must travel across the old bridge that crosses the river. I had noticed as we traversed the span lately, that the trees and plants growing along the river’s edge were looking not-so-great; they were either gone, flattened or broken. So, this cloudy Sunday we headed there to see it all up close. In the picture above the clouds hang heavily in the north and a grassy cliff has fallen away jaggedly toward the river bank. Mclean Park is about 40-acres, all-told, and includes the bluffs that overlook the river. Picnic areas, pathways, and hiking and equestrian trails make up the amenities here …

Perfect conditions

… and even on an overcast day like this Sunday, its open spaces feel wide open and naturally spacious. Two large mound-like concrete cisterns look like primitive shelters under the dark skies. All conditions seem perfect for exploring. Mclean-Anza Narrows Park has an interesting historical backstory: The Mclean part of its name refers to Martha Mclean, a local activist. She, and friend Ruth Anderson, successfully moved to block a planned paving of the Santa Ana River by the US Army’s Corp of Engineers in the ’60s. The Anza part goes back much farther …


… and refers to the crossing point that the explorer Juan Bautista de Anza’s expedition took to cross the river in 1774 and 1776. Here, you can see de Anza’s crossing, as well as the Union Pacific train bridge with its distinctive arches. Passing at a fast clip over the bridge on the way to work I get a great view of the river below, but I’ve never had a chance to get a good look at the bridge itself.

Stony anchor

We hike down the slope via the bicycle path, and approaching the bridge, I’m struck by its immensity and beauty. Built in 1904, it’s had some obvious patching and repairs done to it over the years. It’s an amazing engineering feat and almost seems to have been carved out of the gigantic boulders that anchor it on this side of the river. I’m not happy — nor surprised — to see graffiti on both boulders and bridge (from my train window I’ve seen suspicious-looking young people hanging out here, and even a nude photo shoot taking place, as we passed above).


The rain had stopped enough days now that it would be possible to cross the river on foot, though probably not safely, so we headed back up the path to take in the effect of all the recent rains on the river.


Until the rains, the view from the train was of lush greenery. Post-drenching, the river has been expanded and the pushing force of the waters has flattened all the vegetation. Mud flows are everywhere, small trees have been uprooted, bamboo is now horizontal and great clumps of debris have gathered in rendered-ineffectual chain-link fencing. A monochrome effect is the result. We hike up a slope toward a stone marker.

Anza's marker

The marker commemorates the spot where de Anza crossed in 1774, making this the point where Europeans first crossed the area that would become Riverside. The rusted old metal plate is handsome and, happily, not the target of taggers who chose to leave their own mark above it. The view here is expansive and, in the cold moist air, bracing. We decide to head out in search of lunch …

Squirrel slide?

… and come across what seems to be an abandoned water slide. An uneven stairway made of railroad ties goes up the slope here and meets a concrete sluice that would seem to easily accommodate a person. We have no idea when this might’ve been made or by whom. Squirrels seem to be the slide’s users now and they’re easily scaling up and down the slope here.

Martha Mclean-Anza Narrows Park is picturesque and lends itself to a variety of activities, though I’d stay away from the river itself due to the unsavory things I’ve seen from the train. It’s located at 5759 Jurupa Ave., Riverside CA 92506; click here. Note: we were surprised to see that visiting the park required a $5-per-car admission fee. There seemed to be a no-pay path off to the side but it’s not for cars, bicycles only, and not easy to get back out of, so don’t try it.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 8, 2011 6:54 pm

    Makes you wonder what kind of more attractive use could have been made of this river as it approaches it’s namesake.

    • reubix1 permalink*
      January 8, 2011 7:31 pm

      And I do wonder just that as I pass over it on the way to LA every day.

  2. AlgaRythums permalink
    October 7, 2011 12:00 am

    Love this old bridge! I love the bridges of Pasadena. Wonder over the water slide?!

    • reubix1 permalink*
      October 7, 2011 12:26 am

      The slide to nowhere: I wonder the who, what and why of it, too !


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