Friday, August 29, 2014

Photo Essay: Hansen Dam, from Floods to Drought

Considering the drought we're in now here in California, it's hard to believe that flooding was once a major concern in the LA area – enough to channelize the lush LA River with concrete walls and bottom, and institute other flood control measures, like the massive horseshoe-shaped Hansen Dam.



Located at the foot of the Angeles National Forest, near Big Tujunga Wash, the dam (at the time, the world's largest of its kind) was built by nearly 1000 men after the catastrophic floods of 1938  – though, as evidenced by the nearby Verdugo Hills Cemetery, it didn't necessarily fix the area's flooding problem altogether.



These days, with everything all dried up, Hansen Dam is known more as just a recreation area...



...its earthen wall creating a nice elevated surface for a bike path...



...for people to wheel, run, and push their strollers high above the bridle trails to the north, and the golf course to the south. (It's a good spot to witness any horses sinking into the reported quicksand below, too.)



But as you reach the middle of the dam...



...you area reminded of its function...



...with a spillway topped by a bridge...



...and a channel that doesn't stop the water from flowing...



...but merely slows it down to prevent another flooding catastrophe.



Out there...



...with the mountains in the distance...



 ...and the horses below...



...Hansen Dam is an engineering marvel that offers panoramic views of the San Fernando Valley...



...whether or not there's any flowing water to be slowed down.



As for now, despite the drought, you can still find plenty of water in the nearby recreation lake (which offers fishing and boating)...



... and at Hansen Dam Aquatic Center's "swim lake," which provides 1.5 acres of chlorinated water for swimming, two water slides, a manmade beach, and all those mountain valley vistas.

For me, this place is far more interesting than any of LA's more popular beaches (many of which I've visited, but have had nothing to write about).

Related Posts:
Los Angeles River's Beautiful Ugly

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Photo Essay: The Blooming, Stinking Corpse Flower (and Other Delights) at Huntington Gardens

I feel like the entire time in New York, all the public crazes had to do with some concert or bar or club or party or maybe art opening or burger stand.

Maybe I'm just in a different place in my life, but since moving to California, I've been getting excited instead over giant boulders and rubber duckies and weird light and color experiences, not to mention the space shuttle and strange blooming plants. (I look forward to the upcoming Downtown water slide as well.)

Years ago, I once stood in line for hours in the rain for concert tickets to see Billy Idol at The Bottom Line in Greenwich Village. Now I get up early to drive to the San Gabriel Valley to get a whiff of a rotten-smelling flower that only blooms (and stinks) for a few hours.



I had enough foresight to arrive to Huntington Gardens early this morning – before their advertised public open hours – so, without having to wait in line, I got to see the staff stick a camera down into the "Corpse Flower" bloom to witness the tiny, hidden female parts (the stigma)...



...which they were about to manually pollinate by cutting a rectangular window in the side of the bottom of the plant.



I also got there just in time (before the line really started to form), since the Amorphophallus titanium had already reached its peak bloom sometime around midnight...



...and was already starting to close up again.



It's called the "Corpse Flower" because of its alleged "rotting" smell...



...which certainly is pungent and nauseating, but somewhat indescribable. It didn't smell like any carcass I've ever encountered, lacking the meaty, fatty, gamey quality of an animal.



It is not particularly beautiful, and certainly not fragrant, but it is imposing and tremendous, and demands respect.



I was happy to have an excuse to return to the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanic Gardens...


Erepsia heteropetala (South Africa)

...which has enough American and European paintings, sculpture, and furniture in their art galleries...


Mammillaria geminispina (Mexico)

...as well as manuscripts, prints, and photographs in its library collection...


Echinocereus viereckii (Mexico)

...to keep you busy all day.



During my first (and only other) visit four years ago, I found the whole thing too overwhelming...



...and, instead of trying to do it all, focused on exploring the Huntington's fabulous botanic garden...



...particularly their desert garden.



I hadn't posted most of my photos from back then...



...but today's visit reminded me of its beauty...



...and intriguing microcosm of biodiversity.






Aeonium tabuliforme




Aeonium arboreum


Aeonium arboreum



The butterflies were still fluttering on this late summer afternoon, today...




...as they probably do all year, as there is always something blooming in the gardens of Southern California, all year long, under the unrelenting sun.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Beware the World's Largest Flowering Plant
Photo Essay: Moorten Botanical Garden, Palm Springs
Where Does My Garden Grow?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Photo Essay: Joint Forces Training Base (Former Naval Air Station), Los Alamitos

I've explored so much of LA in such a short period of time, it's a rare occasion for me to hear of someplace new to visit. And when I do, I kind of have to jump on it.

Even if I'm not sure what exactly is going to happen there.

This week I found out that there is a Joint Forces Training Base just inside of Orange County in Los Alamitos, and that they conduct public tours which not only welcome photography, but also culminate with a simulation machine gun training exercise.

Three days later, I was there to check it out myself.



The tour starts at Building 244, the Veteran's Center...



...where you board a military bus...



...that drives you around the sprawling 1400 acre military base...



...past parked military-grade vehicles...



...surveillance equipment...



...and lots of buildings first erected in the 1940s when this was operating as Naval Air Station Los Alamitos, supporting the World War II effort.



You get to see some exhibits of historical aircraft on display...



...but this place isn't a museum: it's a fully functioning base with over 70 different tenant entities from both public and private sectors (including multiple military forces and government services).



Servicing military personnel as well as veterans is a full banquet facility...



...with the adjacent Pub at Fiddler's Green...



...where you can park yourself, grab a bite and watch the helicopters take off and land (like you can at The Proud Bird by LAX).



In fact, the base itself (not just the restaurant) is open to the public – whether you're military or not –



...as long as you have a government-issued ID to show at the security gate.



Located here are the headquarters of the 40th Infantry Division of the California National Guard, which took control of the base in the early 1970s...



...and continues to be one of the largest tenants of the base.



The JFTB also features the Los Alamitos Army Airfield...



...which is the last remaining (operating) military airfield in the greater Los Angeles / Orange County area.



There are two landing strips which can accommodate a 747 or even Air Force One if necessary...



...but most of their air traffic consists of helicopters (namely, Blackhawks), which could really land anywhere.



Perhaps most importantly, this is ground zero for emergency management and disaster support for the entire LA area, situated midway between the Valley and Dana Point (Orange County).



They not only store supplies and are capable of quickly setting up tent cities...



...but they also can deliver those supplies to any local airports that have been rendered inoperable, or otherwise impacted by natural disasters (which is what happened to the Van Nuys and Burbank airports during the 1994 Northridge earthquake), acts of terrorism, etc.



They currently deploy helicopters (marked with a swath of pink paint) to help fight California wildfires, too.



They say that even if this base is impacted (like if all the buildings fell down), Emergency Services could still be operational – which is important since they're the only nearby military support available to civil authorities in state and federal emergencies.



There is so much going on at the JFTB, from fuel storage....



...to "Operation Medfly" of the California Department of Food and Agriculture...



...to the Civil Support Team for Weapons of Mass Destruction, it's amazing that nothing out in the open is classified.



At its core, of course, the JFTB is a training facility for the FBI, FEMA, FAA, CHiPs, LA and OC fire and police, and even Boy Scouts (among many others).



They use an Engagement Skills Trainer to prepare individuals and firing squads for real field combat...


Photo by CA$H

...using real military machine guns, but saving ammunition (and ensuring safety) by retrofitting them with computer chips that shoot lasers rather than bullets.



And somehow they allow the public to give the simulator a whirl in the indoor, multi-lane facility, shooting at a screen that measures your success rate (and improves your shot). We shot M16s (or something very close) but they also train non-civilians for the use of the M4 carbine, M9 pistol, MK19 grenade machine gun, M249 squad automatic weapon, M240 machine gun, M136 (AT4), M1200 shotgun, M2 machine gun and M203 grenade launcher.

It was hard not to think of it as fun, especially since I've gone shooting for sport and have enjoyed the non-violent nature of aiming at a paper target, rather than a wild animal or a human being. But in reality, it's serious business, and in life-or-death situations (as in the case of the simulator, armed robbery, or ambush) I'm glad to know that protecting me is somebody else's job.

There used to be such a greater military presence in Southern California than there is now, with a few facilities still open (Seal Beach, China Lake, Camp Pendleton) but many others (George AFB, MCAS El Toro and Tustin) continue to become decommissioned, declassified, and closed. It's no wonder I turned to my friend and said, "I can't wait to see this place when it's abandoned."

But, as he said, "What happens during an emergency then?"

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Abandoned Naval Housing, Western Avenue
Photo Essay: Ancient Petroglyphs Secured Inside a Navy Weapons Testing Station